The threat of civil war is now very real in Thailand

The thugs patrolling Bangkok’s streets are prepared for violence and have the financial backing of a tiny group of the wealthiest people in the country.

Andrew Spooner reports from Bangkok, where the thuggish and anti-democratic PDRC is taking the country to the brink of civil war

It is the day before the general election and a gun battle is raging in broad daylight just north of Bangkok’s city centre.

There, masked gunmen – armed with what expert military sources have described as Thai Army-issued weaponry – are firing at pro-democracy Red Shirt activists and local voters who’ve been attempting to allow the delivery of ballot papers from a depot blockaded by thugs from the violent, fascistic  ‘protest’ movement, the Democrat Party-led People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

The Thai Democrat Party and their street front, the PDRC, don’t really do democracy.

After boycotting this election, the second general election they’ve boycotted in eight years, this political party – led by dual British/Thai citizen, the Eton and Oxford educated Abhisit Vejjajiva, (the word ‘abhisit’ in Thai directly translates into English as ‘privilege’) who has recently been indicted for the murder of unarmed pro-democracy protesters in 2010 – have now moved their strategy back to the courts in the hope that the Constitutional Court and Election Commission will nullify the results of the Feb 2nd general election.

Thankfully, so far, the Constitutional Court has refused the Democrat’s petition but to lodge these complaints the Democrats have claimed the election was neither ‘free nor fair’. Of course, what the Democrats fail to mention is that it was their actions –  such as shooting at and beating up ordinary voters who dared to try to vote – that were the root cause of the election being neither free nor fair.

One net result is that the so-called ‘Party of the Army’ are now being fully exposed to the opprobrium of the international community – Time magazine’s withering oped ‘Thailand’s Democrat Party Is Hilariously Misnamed‘ points to a feeling towards the Thai ‘Democrat’ Party. Such is the shame the UK’s Liberal Democrats feel towards the Thai Democrats, who are their allies in the Liberal International, their press office issued a blunt statement to LFF that the Lib Dems don’t have ‘nor have any intentions to have’ any ‘programmes or formal associations’ with the Thai Democrats.

But this failure to grasp the simple mechanics of democracy was ever thus with the Thai Democrats. The only time they seem able to achieve power is not through democratic legitimacy or by producing a raft of policies that will attract votes, but by benefitting from a mix of street thuggery, politicised judicial and administrative interventions and support from the coup-happy Thai Army.

In their almost 70-year history they have never won an outright election victory and were last the biggest party in the Thai Parliament in 1992 with only a 20 per cent vote share – strangely, whilst despised by large sections of the Thai population, their allies in both the Thai aristocracy and the military are often on hand to ‘aid’ them to form a government.

Despite the desperate and pathetic denials by Abhisit – the PDRC leadership is made up entirely of former Democrat Party MPs and ministers and Abhisit himself has routinely attended and spoke at PDRC rallies – it’s explicit that the PDRC are nothing more than a Democrat Party front.

Unfortunately the often ridiculous coverage of the PDRC rallies from the international media – the BBC’s Jonathan Head has not only been asking questions on behalf of Democrat Party members, he also tweeted that he ‘hugged’ a member of the PDRC; it has also become routine to describe this band of thugs as ‘colourful’ and ‘friendly’ – where they are portrayed as ‘legitimate’ protesters, with equal standing to a democratically elected government belies the fact that they are little more than a rabble, with well-founded rumours that they are funded by Thailand’s richest and most corrupt families.

Over the weekend the elections were held I was in central Bangkok and visited several of the polling booths and the PDRC/Democrat Party rally sites. The rally sites themselves occupy several key intersections in the centre of Bangkok, but on all the occasions I visited not once did the PDRC supporters total more than 1,000 people.

The rallies themselves are astonishingly well-funded with rock concert-style stages set-ups, including massive lighting rigs, giant TV screens and large PA sound systems whilst there is free food and free tents on offer for supporters. In addition PDRC leader Suthep Thuagsuban was recently photographed staying in the luxury US$1000 a night ‘Majesty Suite’ in Bangkok’s five Star Dusit Thani hotel.

On the outer rim of the rally sites are military-style sandbagged blockades where thuggish looking and sometimes drunk PDRC/Democrat Party ‘guards’ threaten and intimidate those entering ‘their’ area of control, stopping and searching, at a whim, ordinary people passing through. There have been a number of reports of the PDRC ‘guards’ extorting money and even kidnapping and torturing persons who they deem a ‘threat’ to the rallies.

These thugs – I was told by a former Thai government cabinet minister that the leader of the PDRC, Suthep Thuagsuban, has deliberately recruited the most vicious low-level criminals he can find to act as guards – also patrol inside the rally sites and on each of the three occasions I made an attempt to photograph them they become instantly abusive and threatening.

So where now for Thailand?

Over the last 48 hours (14/15 Feb) there have been some attempts by the police to clear what Forbes magazine accurately described as Thailand’s own version of Mussolini’s Blackshirts from the streets but with the Thai Army – who are beyond any form of civilian and democratic control –  offering these neo-fascists ‘protection’ it is hard to imagine they will be completely removed from Bangkok’s streets just yet.

The Feb 2 general election is still uncompleted, with a couple of dozen constituencies still to finalise voting, and with the present Pheu Thai government operating at a ‘caretaker’ level a stalemate ensues – readers should be reminded that despite the low turnout and all the Democrat Party-led intimidation, violence and threats, Pheu Thai will certainly outpoll the Democrat Party’s 2011 vote tally.

As events in Bangkok today reveal – two police officers and two protesters have been killed – the thugs patrolling Bangkok’s streets are prepared for violence and still have the financial backing of a tiny group of the wealthiest persons in Thailand meaning that the only choice for the caretaker government is to move slowly and carefully. The threat of a serious escalation of violence and possibly civil war is now very real.

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23 Responses to “The threat of civil war is now very real in Thailand”

  1. Thai-lover

    With all due respect….
    What would the honarable author write when Thailand goes bangrupt,as in 97
    Blaming a few thugs with a gun or a large crowd of unarmed farmers without payments?
    secondly,comments in favor of ANY colored shirt is ridiculous,TIT is short for Bias and avoid loosing face, thus the truth.
    In all honesty…i admire PM yingluck for her courage and determination, i even willing to believe she is real…….but her comes the TIT again……is she????
    last but not least…..
    red shirt movement, in large farmers, should be included in the decision making process in Thailand, don’t you think?
    How many grass root decision makers are choosen in the PT Phua Thai (red shirt) government????????????

  2. Thai-lover

    TIT = This Is Thailand

  3. Peter Montalbano

    Wow. Not denying that things are getting ugly, but you sure are looking at this with one-sided glasses. If you were close to the scene during the similar redshirt occupation in 2010, you would have seen some SERIOUS thugs and thuggery. Right around the barricades, or any sensitive spots. Oh, do you see any barricades in Bangkok now, bristling with spears and tires ready to be set on fire? I’m not taking sides. Too many people have done that already. And especially farangs–who jump on anybody’s bandwagon in this mess really, really irk me. It’s already hard enough to imagine a way out, and this sort of rant just fuels the fires, IMHO.

  4. DiogenesInDerTonne

    Wow. I’m shocked how willingly Westerners are to call for a “balanced” view on a conflict, where one side is obviously trying to destroy democracies and is showing some serious fascist tendencies.

  5. เจย์ เจมส์

    In 2010, redshirts were protesting against an unelected government. Big difference. Protesting for democracy and against democracy.

  6. edsmale .

    Sure big difference. Red shirts put children on top of barricades and used them as human shields. Red shirts burned buildings. Very different indeed.

  7. Andrew Spooner

    Hi Edsmale

    Here is a photo of PDRC/”Democrat” activists using children as human shields on their barricades – this looks systematic and not a one-off aberration as was the incident involving the Red Shirts in 2010

    Here also is a photo of a PDRC/”Democrat” gunman shooting at locals who dared to oppose the PDRC/”Democrat” stopping ballot papers being delivered.

    Here’s a photo of a PDRC/”Democrat” supporter attacking the police with a machete.

    Finally, here is an aerial video of PDRC/”Democrat” rioters attacking public buildings and trying to set them on fire.

  8. IsntMan

    Fueled by Thai court sentence abandon any government crackdown procedure despite having martial declaring law. With the sentence the mob could do more aggressive violent to topple Yingluck. How could the gov enforce the law ? It’s time for pro-democracy now!

  9. edsmale .

    Your a funny guy.

    kids sitting around during a street festival…complete with streetcsellers and entertainment…is hardly the same as kids held against their will during combat operations

    a line of police replete with tear gas moving on one man, and that man is “attacking” police? 555

    I see an arial view with flash bang grenades going off. If they wanted to burn buildings, buildings would have burned. As the red shirts burned over a half dozen.

    a gunman yes. Who’s gunman is unknown. As during a prior protest the government was proved to shoot their own police with black ops forces from government occupied buildings in an effort to incite violence, it is not surprising if they attempt such things again

    good effort at deceit however. Krub.

  10. Andrew Spooner

    No, they is a systematic use of children and elderly people by PDRC as shields. As for “street festival” – that’s a misnomer – they are grim, unfriendly rallies, controlled by aggressive armed men.

    The use of one child on one occasion by a very stupid parent in 2010 was a one-off and clearly not systematic.

    However that didn’t stop the Abhisit govt shooting and killing unarmed 16yr old kids and also the people who tried to rescue them.

    There has been two cases brought against the Red Shirts in terms of the fires in Bangkok (which all happened in areas that were under Army control) – the individuals concerned were all found innocent.

    No, the gunman is not unknown – the police attempted to secure an arrest warrant as they knew who it was after very clear photos of the gunman’s face were published. Amazingly the police were told “no” that the person they’d identified couldn’t be picked up and questioned. Almost certainly Army brought in to support PDRC.

  11. Peter Montalbano

    Here it goes again. It’s always one side is “for democracy,” the other side is “against democracy.” They’ve sold you that line. Come on, it’s just not that simple. I was disturbed by Suthep’s protests, especially when they started, but along the way I kept an open mind, and there’s much more going on here. I’m not happy about the demagoguery on either side, but listen: Thaksin cares NOTHING for democracy. And whether or not he’s fooled a majority, he is indeed pulling the strings here. Democracy has never been perfect in Thailand. And in fact Aphisit’s government WAS elected. The fact that events leading up to that election were weird didn’t make it less of an election. I lived here during a real military dictatorship. The Thais are now muddling their way toward figuring out what to do, but there is no clearcut right or wrong here. IMHO we need some totally new people to step up, but to frame this fight as “democracy” vs “dictatorship” is nonsense. I’d like to use a stronger word. Start looking a little deeper. Really.

  12. Peter Montalbano

    Read my reply, above, please. Nobody’s a saint here. But when it comes to fascism, Mr. Thaksin stands head and shoulders above others here, despite the fact that he was elected. Your “obviously” up above is not obvious at all. Look deeper. Talk to some people on the other side. Suthep’s rants are not all there is to it, by a long shot, and in any case “balanced” does not mean equating the value of a wrong side with a right side. What it means is looking clearly and objectively at situations. If you do that, you will abandon this rhetoric about fascits and blackshirts. What there is of that exists on both sides, and if you don’t know that, you are uninformed.

  13. Peter Montalbano

    All I can say is that if you really buy into all that, unquestioningly as it seems, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn you may be interested in purchasing, cheap price! Anybody can post videos and claim they prove something. These certainly don’t. Save it. I watched what happened in 2010, I was there around the front lines for much of it. You are talking through your hat, sorry.

  14. edsmale .

    Now you have fully identified yourself as a hack. As I have been to the rallies many times. Party is what they are. So hack away with your lies elsewhere.

  15. Andrew Spooner

    I’ve been to the rallies many times and they are not “parties”. They are scary, weird and the speakers engage in relentless racist, misogynistic hate speech.

  16. Andrew Spooner

    I’m not sure what you “witnessed” in 2010 has any bearing whatsoever on the political content of 2014 but it is beyond any doubt that almost 100 civilians were shot in Bangkok in 2010 and not one was ever proven to have been armed or engaged in acts that would endanger life. Not one. The PDRC/Democrat rallies espouse extreme violence in an open attack on democracy and the rule of law. If you want to support that fascism, that’s your choice, but others quite rightly will raise their voices against it.

  17. edsmale .

    Liar and hacker, plain and simple. Possibly not even in BKK at all. Anyone here can visit a rally and see how broad your lies are in less then 1 second. Koon ngo.

  18. edsmale .

    Yeah, the home made rocket launchers being fired from atop red shirt barricades endangered no one. What a piece of shyt you are.

  19. Peter Montalbano

    Come on, man. This is Thailand. Are you seriously using the fact that there were no convictions to say nobody on that side did bad things, like starting fires or killing people? Well, where were the convictions on the other side for you “100 civilians?” But I guess for you, that argument doesn’t work both ways, right? Of course it was a mess, and bad things were done. But who ordered bad things done? I think most of the bad things were done by rogue elements and thugs on both sides, though I do believe the redshirts actually WANTED martyrs. The leadership wanted people on their own side to die. They came very close to reaching a compromise agreement, but it was quite clear that Thaksin nixed it. The government itself had nothing to gain from killings, and I don’t believe the government itself wanted any. But it was definitely not a one-sided affair. If you don’t know what i saw (I never used the word “witnessed,”) in 2010 then I submit that you didn’t spend a lot of time around the barricades or listening to what has to be characterized as hate speech coming from the stages and piped to all locations in red territory. I’m not going to post videos, but they are certainly out there.

  20. Andrew Spooner

    Peter, you seem to be unaware of the most basic facts. The Democrats have never won a majority and haven’t been the biggest party in the Thai Parliament since 1992. That’s simply indisputable. Abhisit has never won any kind of election – assuming power because a court dissolved the democratically elected party of government and the army held a gun to the head of the remaining MPs and demanded they form a “coalition” with Abhisit is not something that will ever resemble a democratic “election”. Abhisit’s assumption of power in 2008 was widely and accurately described as a ‘judicial coup”.
    The Thai people have decided on multiple occasions they want the Thaksin-led political project to form their government.
    If others want to oppose Thaksin they should do so democratically not by shooting at voters, strangling voters, beating voters, boycotting elections and whipping up hate.
    The inescapable fact is that Abhisit/Democrats are reviled by large parts of Thailand due to their involvement in the deaths in 2010, by their assumption of power despite having no democratic mandate and by their arrogant dismissive disdain for millions of ordinary Thais.

  21. Peter Montalbano

    Basic facts? Please. I’m pretty well-read on the history of Thailand, having come here first during Thanom’s dictatorship, and having worked in 2005 in tsunami relief in a government office under Thaksin’s government–during which time I read a book on Thaksin–and saw how little the supposedly populist government itself was doing to help the victims of the tsunami. Don’t give me words like “indisputable” and “inescapable fact.” Those show what blinders you have on. You’re right about the Dems never having a majority, but have you heard of coalition governments? And “large parts of Thailand,” does that mean there’s nobody but redshirts in the Northeast? That would be incorrect. And support for this government is on the wane, whether you approve or not. Let’s agree to disagree. I would just urge you to open your mind and look at some things people on the “other side” are saying. I personally don’t have a “side,” and I think that’s wiser.

  22. Steve Todd

    Andrew: “The Democrats have never won a majority and haven’t been the biggest party in the Thai Parliament since 1992.”

    Peter: “have you heard of coalition governments?”

    Andrew: “The inescapable fact is that Abhisit/Democrats are reviled by large parts of Thailand”

    Peter: “does that mean there’s nobody but redshirts in the Northeast?”

    Peter: “And support for this government is on the wane, whether you approve or not.”

    I would strongly suggest not bothering with Peter anymore, Andrew. You simply can’t debate people who argue against things you never even said, who claim authority based on time, and who rebuke impartiality and opinion stated as fact, then pepper their own posts with exactly that which they decry.

    [Edited for bad grammar]

  23. Peter Montalbano

    Wow. Way over my head. I can’t understand a line of this. Your intellect amazes me.

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