Not everything can be analysed rationally but it is possible that the brinksmanship of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) is part of a well-considered strategic push. Stepping back from the cut and thrust of protest tactics we thought it worth reflecting on the ambitions that have drawn the PAD into its attack on the apparatus of Thai government.
To remove Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is the stated goal. Watching the unfolding drama in Bangkok it appears that the PAD leadership and its backers may have several possible “endgames” in mind:
1) They may hope that the king steps into the fray and asks, to guarantee national “reconciliation” among other things, that Samak resign. A compromise Prime Minister — perhaps someone who cannot be tagged as a dreaded “politician” — could then step into the void unopposed by any Thai who values the king’s word. Whether even the king (with his carefully calibrated “charisma”) could risk such an “anti-democratic” intervention is unsure. Of course, the PAD may also be hoping that other political or military pressure may encourage Samak to resign.
2) Elements within the PAD may hope that an escalating confrontation could motivate an army faction to mount another “extra-constitutional” intervention: a coup. Whether such an effort would be acceptable to the general populace or to the rest of the Bangkok elite is uncertain. It is, let’s not forget, less than two years since their last effort, in September 2006. And such a play could, fatally and forever, remove any doubt about the position of parliamentary democracy in a system where the PAD retains any influence. For everyone involved the risks may be just too great.
3) The PAD may, more modestly, be hoping to de-stabilise the Samak government sufficiently that its management of the economy and society is brought into further disrepute. Perhaps there is hope among some in the PAD that a confrontation in Bangkok, however resolved, could prepare the way for a stronger Democrat Party showing in future elections. Perhaps there is also some hope that if a compromise can be worked out, perhaps with an interim “government of national unity”, the PAD will be able to take on a role as an un-elected “PM-maker”. In the uncertain times ahead the PAD may see such arbitration of electoral democracy as the best defence of the kingdom and its (non-parliamentary) institutions.
4) Elements within the PAD may also be hoping that a heavy-handed government response to the current protest may provide them with some politically useful symbols of repression (and perhaps even some martyrs) that could be used to invigorate future phases of their campaign.
Whether any of these “endgames” are currently driving the PAD brinksmanship is, of course, still open to debate. Perhaps they are just hoping that if they raise the temperature enough, something — anything — will have to crack.