By SIMON ROUGHNEEN
BANGKOK — Despite hours of torrential rain, around 20,000 Redshirt supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra marked the third anniversary of the coup that deposed the former prime minister, at a rally held Saturday in Bangkok.
The highlight of the event was an hour-long address by Thaksin, delivered over video link, where the exiled media mogul echoed calls for fresh elections made by Redshirt leaders earlier in the day.
Thaksin told the crowds: “Our country has deteriorated and risks being a failed state. Our country has slid backwards. There is no justice in society.”
Making some overtly Buddhist references to harmony and balance throughout his address, he pledged to heal the divisions in the country, should he be permitted to return. He added that if re-elected as prime minister, he would need only six months to curb the political turmoil that has rocked the country in recent years.
Earlier, Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan prompted cheers from the rain-sodden crowd, when he said, “We came here today to mark the third anniversary of the coup, which has caused huge damage to the country,”
After Thaksin’s address, visible on a number of big screens erected on Royal Plaza, the rally organisers reversed plans to move the rally to the Bangkok house of Prem Tinsulanonda, head of the country’s Privy Council and who the Redshirts believe to be behind the 2006 coup.
Soldiers were in place to guard Prem’s residence, with barriers erected in the vicinity.
All in all, about 9,000 soldiers and police were deployed by the government and an Internal Security Act imposed around the rally venue, allowing the military to close roads and make arrests.
While the days leading up to the rally were filled with worries about potential violence, or confrontations, between police and protestors, the day passed peacefully. Other rumors of a possible military coup or disturbances fomented by an alleged “3rd hand,” went unrealised.
Over the weekend, current PM Abhisit Vejjajiva mentioned that unknown subversives or troublemakers could use the politically-fraught atmosphere to spur unrest.
“I am worried about the situation tonight and have warned intelligence agencies,” he said.
Parallels were drawn with the 2006 coup, undertaken while Thaksin was in New York attending the UN General Assembly. Current PM Abhisit flies to the US for the UNGA and G-20 meetings on Sunday night.
Thai Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn, told media, “Demonstrations in a democratic society is normal as long as there is order, are held under the law and there is no violence.”
Elsewhere in Bangkok, people gott on with their weekend shopping, with the city’s malls and department stores packed as usual.
“I know the country is somewhat divided”, a computer store worker told The Irrawaddy, “but I don’t get involved in politics and would rather all the protests and problems were over.”
Since Thaksin’s proxy People’s Power Party won elections held in 2007, violent street protests by Yellowshirt opponents, and Redshirts, have blocked roads, airports and government buildings, undermining Thailand’s tourist-friendly, investor-seeking image at a time of global economic turmoil.
Thaksin was convicted last year on conflict of interest charges in relation to a land purchase scandal and remains in exile, despite pleas by his supporters for him to be allowed to return home under a royal pardon.
His supporters have pledged to continue protests and want to set up schools to teach Thais about democracy. NGOs and monitor organizations regard Thailand as having regressed on democratic progress made since the 1992 military coup. At a seminar on civil-military relations held at Chulalongkorn University in early September, discussants told media, including The Irrawaddy, that Thai civil control of the country’s military was waning.Show