Thailand’s sideshow is over

For those who thought yesterday’s event was bad, think again. The real fight is just unfolding. Yesterday’s clashes gave forces from both sides a good feel of one another’s strength and resolve. Like two cautious pugilists meeting in the ring for the first time after a much hyped promotion, clashes between the Government troops and red demonstrators thus far is probably only a prelude to what’s in the offing.

The next few days are likely to see heavy fighting. The ground zero is still teeming with reds and others outside the perimeters of Ratchaprasong intersection are getting organised. At least one source indicates that some taxi and tuk-tuk drivers are getting organised at Suan Phlu, which is adjacent to Lumpini/Silom area. The areas saw heavy clashes yesterday. Drivers of motorcycle taxis along Sathorn road are also telling some pedestrians on the street to go back home as they expect more clashes.

Whichever it plays out, eventually from a physical perspective, the reds will inevitably bow down. They can create mayhem (reports are coming in indicating they have set fire to some buildings around the Lumpini boxing stadium), but that’s probably the furthest they can go. Of course, the much vaunted black-clad paramilitary troops haven’t made their grand entry. If they do, it would perhaps prolong the battle a bit more. On the other hand, the shadowy group might perhaps remain shadowy now that their alleged head Maj. Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol’s influence had been incapacitated by a well-placed .308 bullet.

But physical battle is just part of it. The real fight is politics. Who will emerge victorious from a PR perspective is the key to understand how things will unfold. Both parties (as well others in the game) will be shuffling their steps and doing verbal gymnastics (more than then the usual, that is) to get the positioning right, so that when everything settles down, they are able to get out of this mess with relatively less taint.

What I have written thus far is of course conventional wisdom. But will conventional wisdom rule the day in a country where politics has become so convoluted that no serious political analyst/journalist can actually write something without ever having a second thought? I am not too sure. There are simply too many political players and the dynamics in terms of political interest against political resources is changing so quickly that probably only the main leaders might have an inkling of what’s happening. While the reds and the Government forces are having a go at each other, the unseen hands of the Privy Council, PAD (yellow-shirts) and the army/police are actively at work. And of course we should also not discount the health conditions of the two key protagonists in the drama – Thaksin Shinawatra and King Bhumibol Adulyadej. How will that play out?

This simply means that whatever the outcome of the battle in the next few days, one thing is sure, the war is still on. It is a war which not only has the boxers in the ring slugging it out, but also with the real possibility of having the umpire (police/army), cornermen (yellow/multicoloured faction) and the crowd (Privy Council and other forces, including foreigners) entering the ring to get a piece of the action. The smart money is that the Government of the day led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will be the first casualty.

But everyone is fighting it out without considering the enormous economic and political ramification to Thailand as a whole. Thailand’s economic growth for the year will be badly hampered if matters prolong. As it is this year’s drought will have a telling impact on country’s exports of agri-produce. The tourism sector is in sorry state. FDI numbers are being affected by the Map Tha Phut case. Political instability will further erode FDI numbers, which is Thailand main engine of growth apart from exports. In fact personal feedback from members of Thailand’s powerful Joint Foreign Chamber of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT) indicates the unstable political conditions are making them very wary of investing further in Thailand.

On a political/social level, the ideological undertones of this political crisis are too deep to be put aside. Thaksin’s current role on the red’s movement is enormous but somewhere along the way, it appears the reds’ struggle has expanded beyond Thaksin (though they would still need his money to remain a potent political force) and is now positioned as a class struggle.

As such, the wounds inflicted on Thailand’s psyche and image in the next few days could have a lasting impact on Thailand future growth as a nation. That’s a greater wound that all the grenades, .308 bullets and armoured personal carriers can inflict on the Thai people.  Is our boxing ensemble ready for that?

About Kishen, Guest Contributor