As Thailand’s Main International Airport Resumes Operations One Asks How did Thai Protesters Take Control?

December 3, 2008

BANGKOK THAILAND (ChattahBox) — Relief spread through Thailand on Wednesday as the main international airport for the country slowly opened back up after a weeklong siege by anti-government protesters. Claiming victory, the yellow-clad mob from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) rolled up their mats and sleeping bags.  The protesters decided to end the airport blockades and halt six months of daily street demonstrations on Tuesday, after a court banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from politics and ordered his political party and two partner parties dissolved.

But the questions Pad’s actions have raised about the state of Thailand will continue long after. How could a country as advanced and as dependent on exports and tourism as Thailand allow such a vital transport hub to be stormed by a horde that never numbered more than a few thousand?  What is the PAD, and what gives the movement the confidence to commit its dramatic acts of economic sabotage without fearing any legal sanction? When the first PAD convoys approached the airport last Tuesday, they said they were only going to protest against then-Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who was due to arrive back from the Apec summit in Peru.

The government has a strategy of avoiding confrontation – it did not want a repeat of the disastrous events in October, when several PAD supporters were seriously injured in clashes with the police. The police were under orders not to use force and retreated. No-one thought the PAD would try to take over one of the world’s biggest and busiest airport terminals.  Thai police were reluctant to confront protesters

In fact, PAD organizers told the BBC they had carefully planned the seizure of the airport weeks before. The weakness of Thailand’s police is also important. They have proved no match for this determined and organized movement. They are poorly trained in riot control, and lack the status of the army. Most Thai citizens know that with a few hundred baht or less the police are willing to look the other way on many occassions.

The former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra made a lot of powerful enemies while he was in office with his aggressive efforts to re-shape the country. His loyalists vowed to reconstitute as a new party and to elect a leader by Sunday.  But the protesters, largely drawn from the elite and middle-class establishment, seek a definitive end to Mr. Thaksin’s network of influence, which has dogged charges of corruption and nepotism.
PAD says it is acting in defense of the monarchy. One of the top PAD leaders is Chamlong Srimuang, a former general with close ties to Gen Pren Tinsulanonda, the king’s most senior advisor. But Thai businesses are widely believed to be financing the movement, including at least two national banks.

Senior figures close to the palace have openly supported the movement. When the queen offered to preside over the funeral last month of a PAD protestor killed during clashes with the police, it appeared to be a tacit blessing for the movement. Meanwhile, attention was shifting to the country’s revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who traditionally gives a state-of-the-nation-style address on the eve of his Dec. 5 birthday. Some in the government even believe the revered king may be backing the movement, although at the age of almost 81 this seems unlikely.


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