Abhisit Vejjajiva administration on brink of collapse

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Remembering the dead, April 11th 2010.
Image: Pittaya Sroilong.

In a televised statement on Monday, Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva blamed the loss of life last Saturday in Bangkok on armed terrorists who had infiltrated the Red Shirt protesters. He added that the security forces had opened fire only when fired upon.

The Prime Minister's statement came as he was suffering a double blow to his authority. As coffins draped in Thai flags paraded through Bangkok to symbolise the death of democracy, Thailand's electoral commission ruled that Vejjajiva's Democrat Party should disband. In addition, the chief of the Thai Army, General Anupong Paojinda, publicly called for the dissolution of parliament.

Despite pressure from the Vejjajiva administration, the Thai Army, which traditionally has been politically significant in the country, has been reluctant to use force against the protesters, and will become even more so following what will be seen as innocent blood on its hands.

Even though Vejjajiva has stated that the government and military remain united, without the unequivocal support of the Thai military and security forces, his administration has very little room for maneuver.

Ironically, Vejjajiva may be saved from having to concede to the Red Shirts' demands for fresh elections through the same process that deposed his predecessor and led to his own rise to the premiership. A court has ruled that Vejjajiva's Democrat Party accepted 258 million baht in illegal campaign donations from cement maker TPI Polene. Under Thai law, the courts have the power to dissolve any party ruled to have broken electoral laws and to ban its members from public office for five years. This is the same law that in 2008 resulted in the disbanding of the People's Power Party and the removal of Somchai Wongsawat from office. Leaders from both sides of the political divide have welcomed this development as a way to resolve the current deadlock.

However political commentators note that even with fresh elections the impasse that led to what is now known as Black Saturday would not end. Thai society has become increasingly polarised into pro-Thaksin Shinawatra and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra camps, and neither side will be willing to see the other side in power whatever the results of elections.

The violence on April 10, 2010, the worst for 20 years, saw the death of 21 people, four soldiers and sixteen civilians, including Reuters reporter Hiroyuki Muramoto.