Militancy rising amid Thai political statemate

Mr Suporn Attawong (centre), a red shirt leader and leader of the "Volunteers' Ward to protect Nation's Democracy" group, speaking to members of the group on Monday during a march to mark the end of two days of training at a stadium in Nakhon Ratchasima.

THAILAND - The timing of Thailand's next general election remains uncertain even as its prolonged political stalemate is apparently giving rise to increased militancy.

Thailand's Election Commission (EC) has said it would like the election to be held in July but acknowledged yesterday it could be earlier.

The ruling Puea Thai party wants it in June. The country has been without a sitting parliament since last December; an election on Feb 2 was sabotaged by anti-government protesters and later annulled by a court.

The EC heard the views of almost all political parties at a meeting yesterday that was marred by protesters from the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) demanding that reforms precede an election.

Each party had a few minutes to state its position on the election.

A notable absence was former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the opposition Democrat Party, whose boycott of the Feb 2 poll contributed to its failure.

Abhisit wrote on his Facebook page: "Unfortunately, unable to attend the meeting after consulting the Election Commission on safety concerns."

Later, a party spokesman said the concern had been a death threat issued over the Internet.

The Puea Thai party, which won the 2011 elections and has been a caretaker government since Parliament was dissolved last December, wants the participation of the Democrat Party.

It says the electoral process is the only way out of the stalemate.

Puea Thai remains almost certain of winning an election, and is courting international opinion, which has been supportive of the electoral solution.

Whether the government survives until the next election is another matter.

The Constitutional Court is expected to rule possibly around the end of this month or early May, on a case brought against caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

If it rules against her, the premier and her Cabinet may be forced to resign, bringing the stalemate to a head.

Meanwhile, militancy appears on the rise.

Mr Suporn Attawong, a pro-government red shirt leader based in Nakhon Ratchasima in the north-east, has over the past two days assembled a large "volunteer" force of around 10,000.

He insists they will remain unarmed.

But they are being trained in rudimentary self-defence and he has threatened to march into Bangkok to "protect democracy" if Ms Yingluck is ousted.

And in the capital, retired army general Rienthong Nanna, director of Mongkutwattana General Hospital, has started an Internet-based group threatening to "exterminate" anti-monarchy elements.

Politically aligned with the PDRC, the group has named itself the Rubbish Collectors Organisation (RCO), with "rubbish" referring to people with anti-monarchy views. Dr Rienthong said on Monday the group will be armed.

Yesterday the Bangkok Post in an editorial warned: "The RCO and similar nationalists come from a divisive and violent line of such groups, who have never helped Thailand in the past.

"The sudden trend of extreme nationalism should worry every citizen who is concerned for the future of this country."

Mr Sunai Phasuk, Thailand researcher for the independent Human Rights Watch, said what was most worrying was the "hyping up" of red shirt supporters which would make them more combative.

As for the RCO, "they are trying to dehumanise their targets and turn families and colleagues against each other".

Meantime, Thaksin Shinawatra, the main target of the essentially royalist, pro-establishment PDRC, which sees him as a corrupt Republican, has said he and his family are willing to withdraw from politics. He is Ms Yingluck's brother and the former premier.

But the self-exiled Thaksin, who is said to pull the strings of Puea Thai, has set conditions that analysts say are unlikely to be accepted in the current polarised climate - that "all sides also step back and play by the rules".

This article was published on April 23 in The Straits Times.

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