Unfazed by Democrats, govt fears only rally

Despite the no-confidence debate threat from the opposition and the Senate, the government remains unperturbed and confident that it will sail through the Nov 25-28 debate without difficulty.

Such confidence stems from the very positive public image of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra who has successfully avoided all forms of political confrontation to stay above the political fray.

Different polls have also shown that the general public feel wary of the upcoming no-confidence debate which they see as an arena for politicians to engage in childish quarrels, thus producing no good for the country. The public feel this is why the prime minister sees little value in attending parliamentary sessions.

Throughout the past year, the prime minister has rarely attended House sessions. When she has done, it has been for a very short period of time. The prime minister is confident that her government will remain unscathed not only because of the poll results, but also because in the history of Thai politics, a no-confidence debate has never toppled a government.

The Democrat Party has been working very hard for this no-confidence debate. The strategy is to focus on individual ministers, with a special focus on the prime minister herself. The opposition has also declared that they have the "receipts" that show the government's abuse of power. Obviously, they want to prove wrong the pro-government factions which dismiss the opposition as "impotent".

What worries the government is not the opposition, but the Siam Pitak protest which comprises different groups which are supportive of the Democrat Party. They include the supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the multi-coloured group, and many other anti-Thaksin packs. They will join the rally led by Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit on Saturday. All intelligence channels of the government have been similarly informed that the rally will see more than 100,000 participants.

The government is obviously shaken, as has been demonstrated by its plan to deploy 50,000 policemen to contain possible violence. The worry may stem from Gen Boonlert's no-holds-barred battle cry of: "If they do not leave, then we will not stop."

Even Jatuporn Prompan, a core leader of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) is worried about whether Gen Boonlert is declaring an all-out war against the government. Mr Jatuporn firmly believes that Gen Boonlert and his supporters behind the scenes have a clear goal of toppling the government.

Suriyasai Katasila, co-ordinator of the Green Politics group, believes the Siam Pitak rally this weekend will involve more than 100,000 participants. If he is right, this number will legitimise their call for change as public consensus.

The Siam Pitak rally may not be able to topple the government, but it could be a wake-up call for those in power. "It's difficult to remove the government. But if it faces mass protests often enough, it'll be difficult for the government to survive," Mr Suriyasai said.

He also believes that a hard-hitting no-confidence debate in parliament together with fiery speeches at the rally could inflict serious wounds on the government.

Thammasat University political scientist Somjai Phagaphasvivat does not share that belief, however. As he sees it, the sheer number of protesters alone will not be enough to topple the government, except if the administration miscalculates the situation and starts using violence against the crowd first. Only in this scenario will the government lose its upper hand, slip, trip and fall.

As long as it's not a protracted protest, just a gathering to express frustrations against the government, this rally won't be powerful enough.

Besides, the Siam Pitak rally is a far cry from the powerful red-shirt protests two years ago which commanded full financial and political support.

It is certain that there will be more of this kind of rally while Thai society and politics remain fiercely divided. This situation could continue for many years to come when talk of political reconciliation remains empty.

Nattaya Chetchotiros is Assistant News Editor, Bangkok Post.

About the author

Writer: Nattaya Chetchotiros
Position: Reporter