Government Targets Red Shirts with Harsh Law, Propaganda

Published on IPS, by Marwaan Macan-Markar, June 26, 2010.

With the force of an emergency law behind it, the Thai government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is tightening the screws on an opposition protest movement that, if mishandled, could extract a heavy political price.

On Jun. 28, the powerful department of special investigations (DSI) will begin to question 83 individuals and companies named as the alleged funders of the protesters, known as the ‘red shirts’ for their signature protest colour, who had occupied iconic areas of Bangkok for over two months, till May 19.

The wide-ranging powers of the emergency law is pivotal to trace the flow of money linked to the red shirt movement, admits Tharit Pengdit, the DSI’s director-general, who plans to summon the clan of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, former cabinet ministers, retired senior military and police officers and leaders of the red shirts. 

Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in exile to avoid a jail term for corruption, served as the political godfather of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the now silenced red shirt movement that attracted tens of thousands of supporters drawn to pressure the Abhisit government to dissolve parliament and call for an early election.

Violent clashes between heavily armed Thai troops and an armed wing of the UDD in April and mid-May resulted in 88 deaths, 80 of whom were civilians, and the injury of some 1,800 people during the period when the troops were ordered to clear Bangkok’s streets … //

… That the government is sticking to such a tough line while also promising to heal this South-east Asian kingdom’s political divide through a reconciliation initiative is leaving it open to charges that it is undermining its repeated claims of being a standard bearer of liberal democratic values.

Critics say that the 18-month-old Abhisit administration is proving what the red shirt protesters had said all along – that it was a military-backed administration reluctant to go to the polls to secure its legitimacy. The latter view stems from the role the country’s powerful army chief played in shaping a backroom deal in a military compound in December 2008 to ensure that Abhisit had an alliance of parties to secure a victory in a parliamentary vote.

The government is talking of reconciliation, but the country is witnessing a political transition since the crackdown that points to signs of an “authoritarian regime” emerging, says Chaturon Chaisaeng, a former cabinet minister in a Thaksin-led administration and a regular speaker at red shirt rallies. “There is a close alignment between the civilian government, the military, the elite and the mainstream media.”

Even newspapers traditionally sympathetic to the Abhisit administration have begun to sound the alarm that the current use of the emergency laws – giving the military, police and the DSI extraordinary powers to target the red shirts – could prove counterproductive.

“To continue (with the emergency law) now that the (red shirt) rally has been dispersed only raises the question of whether the government wants to hold on to these extra powers simply to quell its ‘enemies’ and strengthen its political advantage,” the English-language daily ‘Bangkok Post’ commented Friday in an editorial. END. (full text).

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