'King Taksin operation' enters second day, Thai government disrupted

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

PAD founder Sondhi Limthongkul speaking at a rally in 2006.
Image: exceedcharge.

Billing their campaign of disruption as the 'King Taksin operation', the Thai anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) succeeded yesterday in having the day's parliamentary session cancelled. In moving into the second day of blockades and protests, they have expanded their operations to disrupt government business.

Taksin (not to be confused with the fugitive ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra) was an 18th century Siamese monarch noted for his prowess in warfare, the unification of Thailand, and expelling Burmese influence. One tale of his exploits details ordering rice bowls to be broken before a battle, the implication being his troops would not eat until victory was achieved. Within Thailand he is known as 'Taksin the Great', and the association the PAD is trying to make is in line with their claim to be pro-monarchy.

PAD protesters had begun massing on Sunday, and yesterday morning they besieged the parliament building, forcing the joint MP and Senate sessions to be cancelled. A call for a parallel strike by public sector workers met with apathy; it had been hoped this would further disrupt the running of the country and help bring down the People's Power Party (PPP) government of Somchai Wongsawat.

With parliament out of action, PAD protesters began targeting additional offices of the government. Key among these is the temporary home of the cabinet, Don Mueang, the old Bangkok international airport. The government has been operating out of some of the mothballed buildings at the airport since the PAD seized the main Government House compound and buildings in late August.

The government asserts that the constitutional changes which the PAD is vehemently opposed to were not on the agenda for Monday's session. Instead Association of South East Asian (ASEAN) related legislation was to be discussed. As the current chair of ASEAN, concern has been expressed that Thailand may lose face if unable to ratify a variety of treaties at the upcoming meeting in Chiang Mai, north Thailand. The protesters have vowed to disrupt parliamentary sessions until it goes into recess, or the government stands down.

Thaksin Shinawatra at the Pentagon in 2005.

In the aftermath of last month's clashes, where two protesters were killed when police used tear gas, the authorities have avoided any confrontation that could turn violent. When protesters massed at parliament, police allowed them to lay siege to the empty building. Similarly, the protest outside the old international airport has been unimpeded. Measures are in place to prevent occupation of the buildings, but no clashes have occurred. Operation of domestic flights from other parts of the airport have continued without disruption although travellers have been warned to allow extra time getting to the airport due to traffic congestion.

Meanwhile, the PAD's arch-nemesis, the deposed ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, has stated his intention to return to Thai politics and condemned the UK government for revoking his visa. In an interview with Abu Dhabi's Arabian Business, Thaksin stated, "With me at the helm I can bring confidence quickly back to Thailand. We have to find a mechanism under which I can go back, that is why I must tell you that I will go back into politics." The full interview is due to be published this Sunday.

He bemoaned the decision of the British government to cancel his visa; now in self-imposed exile and facing a two year prison sentence, should he return to Thailand, he is believed to be staying in Dubai. According to The Bangkok Post, the UK decision now makes him a wanted man on the run.