31 March 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's U.S.-trained military appears to
support next February's endangered election, and oppose a right-wing
insurrection bent on destroying the government, seizing power,
blacklisting politicians, and cancelling the polls.



The blockades and sit-ins, mostly by Bangkok's wealthy and middle
class, are also trying to prevent poorer urban and rural voters
repeatedly electing politicians who the comparatively well-off
protesters despise.



In some ways, the protesters can be perceived as Thailand's "opulent
minority" against the working class, wrote analyst Apivat Hanvongse.



Another commentator said the goal of the insurrection is to clamp this
poorly educated Southeast Asian country under a closed system of
"elites electing elites to rule the majority."



Wedging itself into this split is the military.



Army generals, including some who participated in a bloodless 2006
coup, are mediating between the protesters' rich and loudly
threatening leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, and the damaged government of
Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.



Ms. Yingluck is vulnerable and beholden to the military's mood swings
because the 2006 coup toppled her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra.



Mr. Thaksin, a billionaire cheered by many marginalized and poor
people, won three elections and became the most popular prime minister
in Thailand's history.



After hearing Mr. Suthep describe his dictatorial "people's
revolution" and politburo-style "people's council" of unidentified
appointees to replace Ms. Yingluck's elected government, the Royal
Thai Armed Forces indicated on Sunday (Dec. 15) their support for
nationwide elections scheduled for Feb. 2.



Permanent Secretary for Defence, Gen. Nipat Thonglek, described the
armed forces' stance at a government-sponsored forum titled, "Which
Way Thailand Will Go," on Sunday (Dec. 15).



Mr. Suthep boycotted the forum and criticized Gen. Nipat as biased
toward Ms. Yingluck and her brother.



Mr. Suthep meanwhile boasts that the police fear him and cannot arrest
him on a warrant for insurrection.



He flaunted his apparent immunity by waltzing into a meeting with the
military on Saturday (Dec. 14), hoping to convince Supreme Commander
Gen. Thanasak Patimaprakorn not to support the prime minister or
February's election.



Gen. Thanasak however told Mr. Suthep, "The best way is to engage in
dialogue and choose the best path. Everyone must exchange with each
other, instead of turning their back to each other.



"Do this and, I believe, there will not be a civil war," Gen. Thanasak said.



Embarrassingly, National Police Chief Gen. Adul Saengsingkaew refused to attend.



"If I took part in this meeting, and did not make the arrest [of Mr.
Suthep], I would be violating Section 157 of the Criminal Code for
negligence of duty," the police chief said.



Why not arrest Mr. Suthep?



"I don't want to make the situation worse than it is," Gen. Adul told reporters.



The United States and more than 35 other countries expressed concern
about Mr. Suthep's protests and said their governments want the street
clashes to end so an election can be held.



The American Embassy is currently commemorating the 180th anniversary
of U.S. relations with Thailand, which is a major non-NATO U.S. ally.



Mr. Suthep's supporters said Washington was "interfering" in Thailand
by supporting Ms. Yingluck and by criticizing protesters for storming
and occupying several government ministries and other official
buildings.



Mr. Suthep's supporters include the opposition Democrat Party which
boycotted a pre-coup 2006 election which Mr. Thaksin won.



The Democrats also lost a 2011 poll which brought Ms. Yingluck to power.



Mr. Suthep wants to cancel those 2011 results and force Ms. Yingluck's
immediate resignation.



"The prime minister must quit, so the people's council can be set up
in the vacuum," Mr. Suthep told Gen. Thanasak on Saturday (Dec. 14).



Mr. Suthep also threatened to stop February's election.



He would allow an election only after his council's unidentified
appointees permanently banish from power Ms. Yingluck, Mr. Thaksin and
their relatives, plus all their political allies.



"Suthep Thaugsuban is basically asking the country to ditch democracy
and hand over power to a shadowy, appointed 'people's council' for an
undetermined length of time," said the staunchly royalist Bangkok
Post's Sunday (Dec. 15) editorial.



The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) -- Thailand's version of
the U.S. FBI -- is considering to indict Mr. Suthep on the filed
charges of "insurrection," punishable by lethal injection or life
imprisonment, for his role in the sometimes violent protests.



While occupying official buildings, Mr. Suthep's supporters allegedly
looted government computers, hard drives, smartphones and databases
from the DSI, the Finance Ministry, the Technology Crime Suppression
Division, and other departments.



Some predict those confidential documents could appear in
WikiLeaks-style exposes.



Mr. Suthep's anti-election protests began on Oct. 31, and resulted in
five deaths when supporters from both sides fought in Bangkok's
streets.



Ms. Yingluck dissolved Parliament's House of Representatives on Dec.
9, leaving a half-appointed Senate in place.



The Feb. 2 elections would restore the House.



Ms. Yingluck's popular Pheu Thai ("For Thais") party, and its
coalition partners, are expected to easily win re-election.


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Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of
Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author
of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including
"Hello My Big Big
Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing
Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand:
Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final
chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled
King Bhumibol
Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.



His websites are:



Asia Correspondent



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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)