What does Suthep really want?

source: photograph by Damir Sagolj (taken via facebook).

As someone who is living near the Ratchadamnern area, I have the privilege of being ringside for the current protests in Bangkok. Usually, during ongoing protests, I would see many people struggling to cope with the resulting traffic problem. For the past few mornings, however, I woke up seeing the nearby street empty. The Pinklao and Rama 8 Bridges, usually full of cars heading from Thonburi into Bangkok, now look empty as if it were a long holiday. Bangkok, I suppose, is suddenly forced to take a break.

Yet, the Bangkok that is turning into a dysfunctional city at the moment is anything but ordinary. The Democrat-led protests, sparked by the outrage against the Amnesty Bill, seemed to be sliding way during recent weeks. However, on Sunday, 24 November 2013, they suddenly jumped back to life. Although the number claimed by some of the protesters (like 2 million) is very far from sensible, and is more of a trick employed by the protest leaders to claim legitimacy from a large number, the actual number of people joining on Sunday was still significant. Most of the foreign press, including CNN (who was claimed by some protesters to be the source of the 2 million number), reported the number to be around 100,000. It should be noted that this number is likely to be contributed to some extent by the protesters who have arrived from the southern region.

As many others have noted, what’s odd about this protest is that, despite the number it has managed to gather, the protest has not really spelled out any clear objectives. Previously, the protest was  about opposing the Amnesty Bill. However, now that the bill is already stalled by the Senate, Suthep Thaugsuban keeps on using several blank slogans to keep the movement alive. He threw in a number of rhetorical flourishes which hardly give any idea of what is to be done in practice. Among these include: returning Thailand to a complete “absolute monarchy”; and “overthrowing Thaksin’s regime”. To make things really impractical, he also rejects dissolving the parliament or the resignation of government as possible solutions.

Suthep’s action leaves one to wonder; “what does he really want?”

As far as I can understand, the blank rhetoric he threw out was not to propose any solution, he just wants to mobilise those who hate the government. Suthep does not want any solution to the situation; his use of ambiguity is in order to enjoy broad support. This is likely because what he actually wants more than anything is “chaos”.

In fact, the chaos strategy is not new to the Democrats. The party resorted to it many times in recent years. Their behavior in the parliament earlier this year reflected this. They also did a similar thing in 2006, by refraining from taking part in the national election. Chaos has been used as their means to cultivate political opportunities. They use it to seduce the extra-democratic power in Thailand to intervene, and for them to enjoy subsequent benefits.

Nonetheless, as the recent history has already shown, such a strategy employed by Suthep is also proven to be costly to the whole society. The intervention of extra-democratic powers, either directly (as happened in the 2006 coup) or indirectly (as occurred to pave way for the Democrats to ascend to power in 2009), only leads to a downwards spiral. With this recent history, it should be clear by now to the Thai people that moving out from democratic rules not only cannot solve the problem, but is also certain to make things worse.

It is so depressing to see Thailand seemingly on the brink of returning to the same sort of political mess. From his point of view, Suthep’s attempt to instigate chaos might be understandable. But the way that so many people are easily lured into his game is not as easy to understand.

Of course, Pheua Thai and Thaksin’s disgraceful action over the Amnesty Bill is to be blamed for sparking the outrages. But with things now going almost out of control, it is also clear that the hatred of Thaksin is still plentiful in Thailand. Underpinning this observable trait are prejudices against equality and the neglect of common-sense that is fueled by Thai-style nationalism. It seems that, with this kind of sentiment too abundant, it would be impossible for the Thais to learn from recent mistakes and for the country to finally move forward.

Thorn Pitidol is a lecturer at Thammasat University

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