Interview by Sakda Samoephob and Phongphiphat Banchanon
Intelligence personnel have confirmed that the red shirts remain strong and are easily capable of mobilizing 10,000 supporters for a rally, or even up to 20,000-30,000 at full capacity. However, Thaksin’s magic has recently dwindled, according to the National Security Council’s Secretary-General Tawin Pleansri in a Matichon interview published on 27 Dec.
With the revocation of the Emergency Decree, restrictions on rallies such as bans on road blockades and on use of loudspeakers and stages have also been lifted. The authorities have to return to using normal laws such as traffic and public cleanliness laws, as before 7 April 2010 when the decree was imposed, Tawin said.
He anticipated that the red shirts would scale up and extend their rallies, and probably make more demands. Their morale was clearly boosted by their numbers at the 19 Dec rally and they became more defiant against the law. The authorities will find it harder to do their job, as they no longer have special laws.
However, the security authorities had been well aware since the beginning that the Emergency Decree could not be imposed forever, he said, since such special laws are usually viewed in negative light. Now that the red-shirt rallies so far seem to have been conducted within the scope of the law, the authorities thought that it was about time to lift the decree. Other factors include concern for the country’s image and the government’s policy on reconciliation, as well as the fact that people, at Ratchaprasong in particular, now seem to enjoy shopping and to have forgotten what happened.
Internal Security Act
The authorities are now using the first section of the 2008 Internal Security Act in the administration of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), and a Situation Monitoring Centre has been set up to coordinate various agencies in Bangkok and the provinces. The second section of the law will be used if problems arise. However, the government prefers not to use it unless necessary, Tawin said.
The Prime Minister is Director of ISOC, but in normal situations the work is handled by the Army Chief and Army Chief of Staff, as Deputy Director and Secretary-General respectively.
Movements of colours in 2011
Tawin said that the People’s Alliance for Democracy had set up a political party, so they had to find ‘selling points’, one of which apparently is the Preah Vihear Temple issue. Setting up the party has lost them a lot of supporters, and they have lost even more due to their conflicts with the Democrat Party which shares much of the same ‘fan base’. The yellow shirts have long passed their peak when they seized the airports. Now they have fewer supporters than the red shirts.
In contrast, the red shirts have been mobilized by politicians with financial resources. The mass of red shirts consist of ‘Thaksin followers’ and politicians’ supporters, as they depend on each other, while there is a small number of old leftists who are ‘surfing the wave’ and are going along with the ride for a while before moving off, because it is impossible for these people to stick with a big capitalist like Thaksin. Thaksin had no choice and had to allow them to come along.
Tawin believes that after the next general election the Phua Thai and Bhum Jai Thai parties will change, and the group of Thaksin admirers will shrink.
He only wishes that there will not be another coup. He believes this should not happen because the military would not want it due to the lack of choice for personnel to write another charter, to form a government and to work on the economy.
He expected that after the next general election the red-shirt movement would scale down, and politics would return to Parliament from the streets, with only coalition, opposition and coalition-wannabe parties.
He could not tell when the Prime Minister would dissolve the House, but was sure that it would not be as late as the end of 2011 as the Prime Minister has said that he will not serve a full term.
He speculated that the dissolution would take place by the middle of next year, as the government saw no imminent danger.
Men in black
Matichon asked whether security measures were reduced because the men in black had all been arrested or there were not as many of them as had been officially reported in the news—Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd had said that there were as many as 500. Tawin quickly responded that a lot of arrest warrants were still outstanding, and the DSI had just arrested a suspect who was accused of having launched M79 grenades from Lumphini Park.
According to Tawin, half of the men in black—he said at another point in the interview that ‘not even half’—have been arrested, while the rest are being watched by the authorities.
Water melon soldiers and tomato police
Tawin said that nothing could be done about this. Information from the DSI sent to the police has been leaked, and has been exposed by Jatuporn Phrompan.
Tawin said that the military did not intend to have an all-out showdown on 10 April, but they were surrounded. Up until 19 May, the authorities had planned well, except for the cases of Pathum Wanaram Temple and the Japanese journalist, which had made the news. There were only clashes or fights at the periphery of the protest area.
The authorities have to take responsibility for any excessive action, otherwise they are granted impunity under the Emergency Decree. They were always reminded to refrain from excessive use of force, as the protesters were their fellow Thais, not enemies of the Kingdom. However, the protesters carried weapons and used violence, so it was necessary for the authorities to use force in response, he said.
He said that the authorities, including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, armed forces chiefs and other high-level officials were protected under the law. None of them knew the whole situation, but they gave strict instructions to security personnel to do their job carefully.
He was certain that the authorities would not be found guilty, because they had no motive to use violence. They were instructed not to kill people. They could use firearms only in self defence, or when they saw immediate threats from the protesters.
What worries him the most is the case of the 6 deaths inside Pathum Wanaram Temple, which Jatuporn Phrompan has publicized. Jatuporn is considered ‘worthless’ by all the security authorities. The DSI has tried to have the court revoke his bail, but has met some obstacles. In the last CRES meeting, the court’s decision was discussed. It was probably because the judges had different ideas and interpretation. Tawin himself believes that there is something deeper than that, but he did not elaborate.
Leaked DSI reports
Investigators at the DSI come from various backgrounds and have different affiliations. Directoir-General Tharit Pengdit has even admitted that he cannot keep them all under control, as there are several factions inside the agency. There are also investigators from other agencies, including the police.