Red March on Bangkok, Day 3 – “Dissolve Parliament or else…!”

The anti-government protests by the Red Shirts has gone into its critical phase as the number of attendance has peaked, but no exact number can be given, because simply everyone is claiming something else.

A total of 46,377 people took part in the mass rally organised by the anti-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) in Bangkok, the Ministry of Interior reported on Sunday evening.

Foreign media estimated the crowds early on Sunday at over 100,000. The Associated Press quoted Pol Gen Wichai Sangprapai, commander in the main protest area, as saying he expected the number to reach 150,000 or more by Sunday evening.

Dispute begins over rally numbers“, Bangkok Post, March 14, 2010

As many as 600,000 members of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship reached Bangkok late today, said Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader. (…)

Abhisit said 100,000 protesters joined the rally last night, a number he said didn’t exceed a similar protest against him last April that turned violent. About 50,000 people turned up today, Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

“We are very satisfied with the turnout,” said Weng, one of the protest leaders. “It’s more people than last April. To say we have only 50,000 is ridiculous.

Thai Protesters Mass to Oust Premier, Pledge Marches“, by Daniel Ten Kate and Anuchit Nguyen, Bloomberg.com, March 14, 2010

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As blogged yesterday, there has been the rumor that the government was considering to enforce a state of emergency. This has been quickly denied in the early hours of today and Prime Minister Abhisit said that such case would happen depending on “necessity and urgency only“. It seems that the authorities are playing cool, for now. The fact that they have not declared Monday a public holiday, in order to ease off to prevent a traffic breakdown with the daily commuters, also underlines this.

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This weekend only marks the beginning of a longer protest by the Red Shirts as they say that the next few days are the most crucial. The most significant development today was their ultimatum to Abhisit to dissolve Parliament with 24 hours or else they’d storm he 11th Infantry Regiment – the government’s “war room” and safe house. The deadline is 12 PM on Monday and with Abhisit very unlikely to act according to their wishes, it will be very interesting how to will unfold tomorrow to say the least.

Here’s what the two English dailies in Thailand The Nation and Bangkok Post are saying plus an analysis by the British Times Online (emphasis all mine).

Today’s noon deadline for the movement’s House dissolution ultimatum will pass, forcing the red shirts to decide what to do next. The movement has announced a plan to besiege the 11th Infantry Regiment headquarters, but the real question is what they are prepared to do afterwards. (…)

As for the government, the military has been firmly on its side. One little worry has to do with what game the coalition partners are playing. News reports suggested the allies are not ready to jump ship, at least for now. If the solidarity is confirmed, this will leave the red shirts with two increasingly implausible scenarios of victory: An upheaval of 500,000 people or a bloody turmoil that somehow enables a pro-Thaksin coup to succeed.

Govt putting the ball in Reds’ court“, by Tulsathit Taptim, The Nation, March 15, 2010

The UDD’s lack of a strong or decisive response to Mr Abhisits anticipated rejection to their call for House dissolution indicates that their much publicised final showdown to topple the government still lacks the knockout punch. The one-million protesters expected by the UDD has not been achieved and remains a pipe dream.  Without that magic figure to tip the balance in their favour,  it is doubtful the UDD will be able to overthrow the government. (…)

Both the UDD and the government have been trying their best to avoid the label of villains for being the first to start violence. The longer the protest drags on, the more likely that one side, or both, will lose patience.

Despite the bluffs and counter-bluffs of both sides, Sunday’s peaceful mass protest is a healthy sign that should prevail throughout the duration of the protest.

Still cool… for now“, by Veera Prateepchaikul, Bangkok Post, March 15, 2010

If the demonstrators can paralyse Bangkok, or provoke the Government into a crude crackdown, Mr Abhisit will be the loser; if he can contain the protest, and reduce it to no more than a noisy nuisance, then he will come out the stronger.

The likeliest outcome is a messy, inconclusive stalemate in which neither side lands a knockout blow, and the loser is Thailand itself – its credibility among foreign investors, its tourist industry, and its once powerful sense of national unity.

Analysis: who will blink first in Bangkok?“, by Richard Lloyd Parry, Times Online, March 14, 2010

Further reading:

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