Crucial moments in Thai politics

The nagging political crisis in Thailand has begun to raise concerns among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) and other long-term allies of the Kingdom including the United States. The unrest has spread to the rural northeast this week, where the anti-government protesters blockaded a military train and detained hundreds of troops to prevent them from launching a crackdown against Thaksin’s supporters in Bangkok.

The “red shirts” have even made an appeal to the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force to Bangkok in the face of a threatened crackdown by the army. The protesters fear a repeat of the bloodshed seen on April 10 when 25 people were killed and 800 injured in clashes between the Thai security forces and the Red Shirts.

The powerful Thai army has threatened a crackdown against protesters but so far it has refrained from using force after the deadly clashes of April 10. Army Chief General Anupong Paojinda hopes to end the standoff without any more blood being spilled. “Whatever I do will depend on the situation, and the outcome would be good for the country and we can uphold the law with no people dead or injured,” General Anupong Paojinda said yesterday.

However, both the government and ‘red shirts’ are apparently reluctant to hold direct talks following the failure of the previous attempt. Negotiations ended in failure earlier this month after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s offer of elections at the end of the year was rejected by the Thaksin’s supporters, who want immediate elections.

The timing of the general elections was a major contentious issue resulting in deadlock in the talks. The current Army Chief General Anupong will retire after completing his term on September 30 this year. Both the government and the opposition want to be in power in September and appoint a friendly general as the new army chief. That is why the former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is urging the government to immediately dissolve parliament and call a snap election.

The protracted stand-off and incidents of violence are not only hurting the country’s tourism industry but also damaging Thailand’s image as a “land of smile”. The regional and international allies of Thailand are willing to see a peacful resolution to the issue as soon as possible.

Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan has expressed concerns over the situation and stressed the need for dialogue. “The deteriorating situation in Thailand between demonstrators and government security forces in Bangkok has caused serious concern among Asean member states and the world at large,” Suri said in a statement.

The United States, a key ally of the country, has also urged both sides to seek a peaceful resolution. “We would continue to encourage both sides to work out their disagreements peacefully,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on Wednesday. “We don’t believe that violence in any shape or form is a solution to this political challenge.”

In the absence of any flexibility from the government and opposition, the chances of a political solution look remote and a massive crackdown seems imminent. However the experts are warning about the fallouts of such a crackdown. An open and meaningful dialogue appears to be the only viable option to achieve long-term political stability in Thailand. It is hoped that the two sides would show flexibility in their positions and agree on a peaceful resolution to the issue.

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