Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blood, Congestion, and What Comes Next

Originally uploaded by ebvImages
So the red shirts carried out their promise to spill blood on the government offices yesterday afternoon. They followed it up with a visit to PM Abhisit's house (he's not there) where they spilled blood on the gate and heaved containers over the wall. Apparently there was more to it than just pouring the blood. There was some kind of "curse" involved.

All in all, I understand they had 50,000 donate blood. I'm not sure how much of it they spilled, but the authorities have already began cleaning it up.

Today the red shirts are on the move. They have caused traffic problems in central Bangkok. My children's school canceled their after school activity and are delaying bus service for kids living downtown. Its not really about danger, its about sitting in traffic for a potential long time.

One of the destinations for the protesters is the U.S. Embassy. They are not happy that the U.S. government shared some information about potential sabotage with the Thai government. There didn't seem to be any overall animosity towards Americans though. Yesterday when people asked me where I was from and said USA, they smiled.

The authorities are predicting that the protests should end within three or four days. Many of the protesters are farmers who need to get back to their work, and the heat has to be taking a toll on people. Former PM Thaksin is calling for replacement protesters to come to the city to relieve those who must return.

I'm not sure what the ultimate end game is for the red shirts. The Prime Minister is not going to dissolve the government and call for new elections. His coalition partners still back him, and he has the apparent backing of the military. The military support seems obvious, as any government that comes from new elections is not going to any better liked by the military.

The coalition partners really don't want a new election. If these partners wanted to be in a government with the reds (as they were a year ago), they would be. They got plum cabinet posts from the Democrats, and a new election is not only expensive, but they could lose their seats.

This risk is especially great for representatives from Newin Chidchob's Bhumjai Thai party. When they were elected, they were part of the red shirt movement; Thaksin's allies. They have been trounced in a few elections where they went head to head against the red's to fill a couple of vacant seats.

I just see the red shirt's spending a lot of money and effort to little effect. They are alienating many people who just want things to return to normal. People are tired of traffic jams and protesters.

On one hand, I think the best strategy would be to skip the protests and just ride out the next year and a half until the elections occur. Potentially they could pick up a number of seats, and maybe become strong enough to lead the next government. Its not like allies are permanent here. Newin was reportedly Thaksin's right hand man, and he went and joined forced with those who oppose Thaksin.

The only problem with that strategy is that PM Abhisit has shown no inclination to let Thaksin be in the mean time. Thailand has attempted to negotiate extradition treaties with countries where Thaksin has sought refuge. He hasn't been successful in all those attempts yet, but he's trying.

Thaksin can probably ride out the extradition storm if he lies low. The UAE seems content to let him stay if he refrains from political activites, and Cambodia has welcomed him with open arms as a way to thumb its nose at Thailand over some border disputes. The problem Thaksin has is that the verdict in the asset seizure case has opened the door for other civil and criminal charges, and PM Abhisit seems ready and willing to leverage those to the maximum. Within a few days of the verdict, he ordered the government ministries to review the court findings and see what additional charges should be brought against Thaksin.

So if Thaksin waits it out, he could end up with more jail time and potentially further assets confiscated. Of course if he and his allies don't come up with a better strategy, they have no other course. And if they continue to alienate voters and burn through large amounts of money in these demonstrations, then the next red government may be very far off indeed.

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