ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Violence feared as red shirts ordered to protect Thai election
Publication Date : 31-01-2014
The likelihood of a volatile confrontation during this Sunday's snap election has increased after a red-shirt leader yesterday urged government supporters to help ensure the voting would not be interrupted.
Thida Tavonseth, chairperson of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), made her appeal to the red shirts nationwide after the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) threatened to besiege all 50 district offices in Bangkok. This would make it difficult to transport ballot boxes, ballot papers and other voting equipment to the more than 6,500 polling stations in the city.
Thida said the red shirts should observe the election and help make sure that the voting can take place properly. "UDD [supporters] and democracy lovers must examine, push and lessen damage to the election to the least without confrontation", she told the red shirts during her daily press conference. However, she did not mention how they would do that, saying the local and central leaders would plan and cooperate with political parties locally.
Thida said the UDD's main rally in Samut Prakan's Bang Pu today was cancelled as the leaders had learnt some people might instigate the situation. The UDD leaders should not gather but stay scattered instead, she said.
UDD coordinator Salaktham Tojirakarn said Thida did not tell the red shirts to gather in groups "to protect the polling booths". He added that people who would camp out at polling stations to protect the venues are not red shirts, but they are "white shirts" who support the election.
Some critics claim many of the "white shirts" are actually red shirts.
Meanwhile, the authorities responsible for holding the Sunday election yesterday also took precautions against possible violence on voting day.
The Election Commission has asked the national police chief and the Metropolitan Police commissioner in writing to provide police personnel to help maintain law and order and protect officials at the polling stations.
A letter signed by deputy EC secretary-general Somsak Suriyamongkol, acting on behalf of the secretary-general, asked the police bosses to instruct police stations to deploy personnel to guard polling stations.
The police would focus on areas where there have been conflicts between local residents over Sunday's voting, according to Royal Thai Police spokesman Pol Maj-General Piya Uthayo. He said rapid-deployment units would be sent out in case of an emergency.
He said national police chief Pol General Adul Sangsingkaew has instructed police personnel to help the EC in providing security during transportation of ballot boxes and papers, as well as during voting at the polling stations.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration also has sought assistance from the Army in providing security to its officials manning the polling stations, according to Ninnart Chalitanont, the BMA's permanent secretary. She said the Army has promised to dispatch soldiers to all polling stations in Bangkok.
"The BMA is worried over the safety of our officials. This is the top priority. We instructed our officials to bring back the voting equipment and leave the polling stations if there is violence. Our officials are worried that they may be at risk," she said yesterday.
In response to the PDRC threat to besiege all of the city's district offices in a bid to block the voting, Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra said yesterday that it was not the BMA's responsibility to talk with the protest leaders. He added that the EC should take care of the matter.
In a related development, the red shirts have prepared a retreat for caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra should the military stage a coup d'etat to overthrow her government.
The plan is to relocate the Yingluck government to Chiang Mai, the home province of the Shinawatra family, with the northern city becoming the capital.
Red-shirt activist Mahawan Kawang said their movement is large enough to challenge the military, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported. "We are not afraid. All the red groups will unite. We are willing to sacrifice our lives," said Mahawan, president of the alumni association of Yupparaj School in Chiang Mai where Yingluck was once a student.
"It is likely the government will move to Chiang Mai. We can defeat tanks because we have the numbers," he added.
Red-shirt supporters spread rumours that the military would intervene to quell the ongoing chaos in the country caused by anti-government protests.
UDD vice chairman of Chiang Mai, Supon Fumuljaroen, a former classmate of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, said: "The majority of red shirts really like the idea of a separate state. If they stage a coup, we can live without Bangkok."
Pinkaew Laungaramsri, a sociologist at Chiang Mai University, said the north-south divide meant that Thailand was breaking up. "If the government is kicked out, then Yingluck will be invited to set up a government here in Chiang Mai," she said.
However, some experts consider the government relocating as an unlikely prospect, the Post reported.