The coming month looks like it will be a testing time for Thailand. The spectacular funeral rites for the king’s sister, Princess Galyani, have merely paused the battle between Thaksin Shinawatra and the forces configured around the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). At the same time, the divorce of Thaksin and his wife of 28 years has many tongues wagging. It’s now looking very likely that this is the beginning of a more openly combative, “gloves off” phase in Thaksin’s war against his enemies.
Such a battle has the potential to get out of hand. Violence on a scale that has not been seen in Bangkok in recent times would make for a very sad end to the year. The leadership of the People’s Alliance for Democracy has pursued a strategy of provocation and escalation. A more publically active role by Thaksin himself will further inflame their passions and rhetoric. Pro-Thaksin forces have demonstrated a willingness to fight back. Their recent mass rally was an impressive show of force and there are elements within the pro-government ranks who are itching for a more direct confrontation with the PAD.
But there are also possibilities for restraint. Even the most rabid Thaksin supporters must realise that a violent clash will play directly into the PAD’s hands. Sustained street violence in Bangkok is PAD’s best chance of bringing on a military coup. Thaksin’s strategists have surely decided that a series of high profile, well attended and peaceful pro-government rallies will hurt the PAD much more than a street fight.
The PAD is also under restraining pressure. The 7 October incident may well be the high point of their provocation. The Queen’s explicit support for the PAD in the wake of the October violence was a short term public relations coup, but it has almost certainly raised high level anxieties about the royal family being drawn so publically into the political fray. Senior backers of the PAD may be looking for some breathing space, so that the royal family can be disentangled from the problematic imagery of political confrontation. Efforts to convince the PAD brigades camped out in Bangkok to disperse have reportedly picked up speed.
There are plenty of possibilities. What are your thoughts on what happens next?