Thailand’s “Godfather IV”

Project Syndicate  |  Jan 18, 2014

By Sin-ming Shaw

BANGKOK – In today’s Bangkok – racked by power struggles and lawlessness – Mario Puzo would have found rich material for a sequel to his classic book The Godfather.

The protagonist of the modern-day crime drama would be Suthep Taugsuban – the deputy prime minister under Thailand’s former military-backed government – who has organized tens of thousands of people to “shut down” Bangkok. To this end, they have blocked major road junctions, occupied parts of the city’s commercial center, and raided government offices, forcing civil servants to work out of makeshift offices away from the mobs of demonstrators.

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Taugsuban’s ultimate goal is to depose Thailand’s “tyrant government,” led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who won a landslide electoral victory in 2011 against Taugsuban’s former boss and current compatriot, ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Already, Taugsuban and his followers have managed to compel Shinawatra to dissolve the parliament and relegate herself to a “caretaker” head of state, calling for new elections on February 2.

But Shinawatra’s attempt to defuse the situation by seeking a new mandate has actually raised tensions further, with Taugsuban and his supporters having rejected the elections, stating publicly that they would lose. The only acceptable solution, they contend, is for Shinawatra and other key ministers to resign.
Taugsuban denies that this amounts to a rejection of democracy. In his view, counting up citizens’ votes would not ensure a “correct” result; a better solution would be to replace the current government with 400 “uncorrupt, neutral” representatives, who would elect a new leader to be legitimized by royal appointment.
Reinforcing Taugsuban’s unwillingness to yield is the fact that the attorney general has issued an arrest warrant for him for “treasonous” acts during the current uprising. Moreover, both Taugsuban and Vejjajiva face murder indictments over a military crackdown on street protests in 2010.

Taugsuban has reportedly told the police and court to hold off on executing the warrant, because he has a revolution to run. The fact that they have heeded his request reflects Taugsuban’s seemingly unchecked power in the capital, where he enjoys the support of high-wage earners and large financial and industrial institutions.

Indeed, as the crowds grow larger, the police seem increasingly helpless. Likewise, while the military is officially neutral, it has made no effort to protect the government, effectively giving the protestors a free hand in reshaping Bangkok’s physical landscape. And the Election Commission – the official body responsible for supervising elections – is now calling for a postponement of the vote.

In short, the rule of law in Thailand increasingly resembles “Mafia” law, with a few powerful people bending the country to their will. Come to think of it, Bangkok’s twisted and surreal setting might have inspired Lewis Carroll, too.

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