Thai PM picking up pieces of fractured society | Connect Asia

Thai PM picking up pieces of fractured society

Thai PM picking up pieces of fractured society

Updated 18 January 2012, 20:15 AEDT

A damaging protest campaign in Bangkok ended peacefully yesterday, but the government, the target of the campaign, now has to pick up the pieces of a society that is deeply divided.

While Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has regained some credibility, the government's problems are far from over. Arrest warrants have been issued for fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and 12 Red Shirt supporters, three of whom were detained by police, after soldiers and protestors fought street battles in Bangkok on Monday.

In a nationwide address, Khun Abhisit said he did not consider a victory or defeat, but that it was a victory for "peace in society".

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Professor Carl Trocki, Thailand specialist at Queensland University of Technology

LAM: Prime Minister Abhisit of course has pulled off the seemingly impossible. Now that he has a bit of breathing space, what is his most pressing first task do you think?

TROCKI: Well, I think it's obvious to restore normalcy to the greatest extent that he can, to do what he can, partly to get the tourist industry going again, which has caused a great deal of serious loss in the country over the past couple of weeks or so. I think beyond that is dealing fairly firmly with the Red Shirts and people behind them.

LAM: But dealing firmly with the Red Shirts is one thing, arresting them and incarcerating them is another. Do you think this might polarise Thai society even further, given that the government has also issued an arrest warrant for Thaksin?

TROCKI: Well, it will certainly bring some resistance from Thaksin's faction. The question is how deep is that support and how long lasting it will be. I mean I think from my own point of view what drives the movement right now is money. If you look at what was going on in the demonstrations, I think Thaksin was depending on people in Bangkok coming out and supporting these guys and that didn't happen. In fact just the opposite happened when they started to commandeer gas tanker trucks and to light them for fire in low rent neighbourhoods. The people came out and attacked them, so that in fact the thing actually backfired on them in many respects. In fact, the only fatalities that took place were incidence where just Bangkok residents battling against the Red Shirts.

LAM: Indeed, the Bangkok residents, the urban centre, they were quite fed up with the Red Shirts and their protests. What about in the wider countryside, where Thaksin's support base is? Do you think there is still a lot of support out there?

TROCKI: Yeah, there is. It depends how deep it runs and who are the people who are supporting him. I am unhappy with a lot of the reporting which suggests that Thaksin support in the countryside is actually all from the people - rural people, meaning the peasants and things like that - and not much more from what we might call the rural elite - the small town, mostly provincial small town elite, very often people one would consider to be gangsters, who what the Thai call Chapur, or godfathers. A lot of these people are the ones that very often control the political mechanisms in a number of provincial towns and I think to a great extent Thaksin has been able to depend on these people for his basic support. And to some degree there are some people who are basically bought and believe in what he does - money politics.

LAM: So, just briefly Professor Trocki, what options are open for the Thai prime minister now that he has a bit of a breathing space?

TROCKI: Well, I think he's going to have to go after Thaksin and some of the major supporters. I mean, threatening acts of terrorism and things like that are I think sort of indictable offences. I don't think he's just going off and grabbing people off the street and arresting them. I think he's going to be very careful and follow the rule of law on these matters as he seems to have been doing - that bending over backwards and letting to the point where they are letting another demonstration in front of government house continue without any problems. Even Abhisit has said, well, that's legal, I can't stop that. So these things are going on. I think he's trying to do the most he can to demonstrate that he supports democracy and free expression.

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