The Supreme Court will give it’s verdict this Friday on whether or not, partially or entirely, to seize 76 billion baht ($2.3 billion) of frozen assets which belongs to Thaksin Shinawatra. Meanwhile, hundreds of extra security forces have been deployed in Bangkok including military personnel to support the police. The Red Shirts have also gathered, albeit not in the highest numbers, in the capital eagerly awaiting the verdict. These are the facts.
Beyond that is an atmosphere of tense anticipation prior to the verdict and both sides of the spectrum have not really done their best to calm the mood down. In fact, the PM Abhisit’s personal spokesperson Theptai Saenpong has spoken about “10 days of danger“:
กลุ่มคนเสื้อแดง ว่า จากการวิเคราะห์สถานการณ์เห็นว่า ในช่วงเวลา 10 วันอันตราย จะเป็นเรื่องที่มีความเป็นไปได้สูง ว่าจะเกิดความรุนแรง
Thepthai as stating in reference to the red shirts and from analysis of the situation that in the 10 days of danger that it was likely that there would be violence.
Frederico Ferrara, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore, was more direct about the government’s stance at a recent panel discussion:
But key government figures have done their part to ratchet up fear of the Red Shirts.
“It seems like there are people on both sides who are intent on precipitating this to some extent; each has its own calculations. The government’s posture in this regard is not encouraging at all”, Professor Ferrara said at the FCCT.
“The scaremongering and the demonization of the opposition that you hear every day in the papers; the mysterious grenade attacks; it seems like from the old playbook.”
“This is stuff that’s been happening here for 35 years. You rile up the population that are kind of neutral, you scare them to such an extent that when something does happen, when the regime really does crack down, when perhaps the army does take over, they are seen as the ones who are restoring order and protecting the unity of the nation, not the ones who are undermining the order and the unity of the nation as they have for the last 35 years.”
It is a cat and mouse game, with bluff and counter-bluff, and nobody quite knows how the chips will fall.
(“Cat and Mouse in Thailand“, by Nirmal Ghosh, Feb 21, 2010)
And thus the Thai media has picked up on the theme of intimidation. Newspapers have billed February 26th as “Judgment Day“, as if some eagerly await something to happen.
The government meanwhile, after the Songkran riots of April 2009, are not taking any chances and have beefed up the security considerably.
The Red Shirts on the other side are determined to make a stand, but red isn’t automatically red:
At the same time there appears to be many “shades of red” within the red camp. There is a faction of the “loyal” reds who are doing everything due to their love for and loyalty to Thaksin and Thaksin alone.
There are people who have become “red” because they feel the injustice that prevails in Thai society and would like to push for change in a peaceful and democratic manner.
And there is the “hardcore” militant red ready to unleash violence on its enemies, whether out of personal vendetta or the belief that only force will bring the necessary change.
Strategically, the reds will press on to demonstrate that Thais live under a “double standard” system where the elite and aristocrats, the so-called amartya, with military backing and the Democrat Party as a political front, continue to exploit and take advantage of the majority of people.
(“Talking Points Before Final Showdown“, by Suranand Vejjajiva, Bangkok Post, Feb 19, 2010)
Regardless of the outcome, this will not be largest turnout by reds, as they announced their mass rally with “millions of supporters” will take place on March 12, 2010.
I will not address many key issues here as there have been examined better by others like where Thaksin’s money comes from, if there is a legal precedent and what the some (secretly) hope to achieve with a full seizure. I also will not discuss the possible outcome(s) of the verdict.
Nevertheless, it is apparent that this is a landmark case in Thailand and the anticipation on this Friday shows that it more than just about the money and Thaksin – the country is still very divided and still very far from the much proposed national reconciliation. We will have to wait and see where Thailand is heading at the end of the day.
To keep up with the latest on this topic, I recommend to follow these people on Twitter: @Newley, @bangkokpundit, @TAN_Network, @tulsathit (of course I might have forgot a few dozen). I also, time difference permitting, probably will give my take via Twitter (@Saksith) later.