The Thai government, which has been under-siege by pro-democracy protesters for nearly a month, has finally started to clamp down after protesters broke from their mostly nonviolent tactics yesterday to smash through the parliament compound gate with a truck. According to The Guardian:
Thailand’s beleaguered government shut down a satellite television station and the web sites of anti-government demonstrators today after declaring a state of emergency, then issued arrest warrants for protest leaders accused of storming parliament.
The Guardian also noted that until this point prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was “under pressure to use force to restore order.” Also, much of the Thai media were questioning whether he was losing his control over the situation. It now seems, however, that the protesters have given him an opportunity to exert his power. According to the Business Week:
The emergency decree bans gatherings of more than five people, allows detention without charge and gives soldiers immunity from prosecution.
Perhaps Abhisit has a keen understanding of power dynamics. With support growing for the Red Shirts in the weeks before the storming of parliament, as well as rumors of dissension within the military and law enforcement, a move to crackdown on the protesters would have likely backfired. But waiting for the protesters to strike the first violent blow lends a certain legitimacy to any act of repression. He can mask it as merely doing his stately duty to protect the people of Thailand.
“The law doesn’t mean we aim to crack down or hurt people, especially innocent people,” Abhisit said in a televised address. “The nation has been severely affected by the protests and the government needs to rectify the situation.”
The question now is whether the Red Shirts have backed themselves into a corner. Has Abhisit gained the upper hand? The answer will likely depend on how the protesters respond to the crackdown. Will they use more violence? If so, they are giving up their greatest weapon and instead using the weapon of the military, which is surely better stocked.