Posts Tagged ‘PAD put Siam monarch to test’
A diversionary manoeuvre takes Thailand’s political struggle to Cambodia
The Siam authorities expected trouble on September 19th, the anniversary of a military coup in 2006. Thousands of police and soldiers guarded central Bangkok, where over 20,000 red-shirted protesters gathered under sodden skies to listen to anti-coup speeches and songs. Thaksin Shinawatra, whom the coup deposed as prime minister, spoke via video-link from exile. Officials warned darkly of bomb plots and other mischief. An internal-security law was invoked. But there was little menace in the air, and by midnight it was all over.
Instead, trouble erupted hundreds of miles away, on the Thai-Cambodian border. A mob raised by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the rowdy royalists who shut down Bangkok’s airports last year, brawled with riot police and local villagers, who were blocking their path to Preah Vihear, a 11th-century temple on the Cambodian side. A handful of people were treated after being beaten or shot.
The PAD is outraged that Cambodia is building on disputed land around the site. A similar row last year drew in Thai and Cambodian troops. Since then, sporadic armed clashes have claimed several lives and driven away tourists. Little wonder, then, that the villagers reacted furiously to the arrival of yellow-shirted PAD thugs, determined to upstage their red-shirted rivals in Bangkok.
In June 2008 the PAD railed against the prime minister of the time, Samak Sundaravej, for backing Cambodia’s successful bid for Preah Vihear to be listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. PAD leaders claimed (wrongly) that Thai diplomats had renounced Thailand’s claim to 4.6 square kilometres (1.8 square miles) of land adjoining the temple. The foreign minister had to resign after signing a communiqué with Cambodia without parliamentary approval. Twenty eight members of the cabinet may still face charges over the issue.
The controversy allowed Thai nationalists to reheat old, discredited arguments as to why the temple rightfully belongs to Thailand (not so, ruled the International Court of Justice in 1962). One such nationalist was Kasit Piromya, a PAD ideologue who is now Thailand’s foreign minister. In recent months he has tried to smooth over tensions with Cambodia. These latest antics are an embarrassment for him and for the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to power in the wake of the PAD’s debilitating protests but has testy relations with the group.
Nationalism is a powerful tool for demagogues such as the PAD. Not content with street protests, it has formed a party that may lure voters from Mr Abhisit’s Democrat Party at a future election. Meanwhile, Thailand’s long-serving king was taken to hospital on September 19th with a fever. The red-shirts are far from Mr Abhisit’s only worry.