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Last chance for peace?

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Last chance for peace? | Thaiger

PHUKET: Is the light at the end of the tunnel that of a train coming our way? The answer depends on how the red shirts, who have been tired, dispirited and discredited, respond today to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s unexpected offer to hold a general election on November 14.

Whether the 30-minute national address last night is a game-changing moment will be known soon. As of now, the ball is squarely in the red shirts’ court. The roars of the crowds at the Rajprasong intersection at the end of Abhisit’s statements could mean anything, but from Day One the protesters have never been the ones making any of the decisions.

Optimists say the Rajprasong occupation may even end in a day or two. They see Abhisit’s offer as a carrot being dangled before demoralized red leaders who have had their personal well-being threatened by possibly serious legal action and their image smeared by the Chulalongkorn Hospital invasion, arms seizures, and alleged links with armed militants.

The real “stick” is yet to come. On Sunday, an emergency Cabinet meeting was called to approve the possibility of an armed crackdown, which would almost surely be accompanied by terrorism charges against key red-shirt leaders, who already face accusations of violating the state of emergency law.

It was thus a good psychological moment for Abhisit to put his five-point “road map” on the table. “This is your graceful exit,” was his unspoken message. Take it, or you will see armored vehicles moving in through the other door.

Now it’s a matter of whether common sense prevails among the red shirts. They poured into Bangkok on March 12 knowing that the political calendar at that time tentatively set the general election for late next year. Abhisit virtually told the movement to think about it, now that he had agreed to reduce the waiting period by half.

The prime minister was almost back to his brimming-with-confidence self yesterday. The road map, he said, was a result of comprehensive consultations with virtually everyone who mattered. It calls for joint national efforts to rebuild political and economic systems to address legitimate problems of the poor, reinforce the bonds between Thais and the monarchy, and make sure that the news media are a constructive tool for society in an age of fast-evolving technology.

An independent investigation will be launched into recent violent incidents that have deepened the national divide.

“This is what I think can really solve your problems along with the national problems,” said Abhisit, seeking to communicate directly with the red shirts at the end of his address. However, he vowed to go ahead without their cooperation, although that would mean the November 14 election date could be postponed. In a firm, yet pleading tone, he urged them to accept the road map so the whole nation can happily celebrate Coronation Day together tomorrow.

Red leaders Jatuporn Promphan and Nuttawut Saikua suggested the movement would give an answer as early as today. They did not comment on the content of the PM’s road map, but the absence of criticism should encourage Abhisit.

With increased public pressure in the wake of the Chulalongkorn Hospital incident and greater likelihood of a crackdown, red-shirt leaders themselves had appeared to be preparing more generous offers for the government in exchange for being treated as political offenders rather than slapped with terrorism- or national security-related crimes.

Before Abhisit’s announcement, Nuttawut insisted the red shirts had never shut the door on further talks. The government should make an offer and the red shirt leaders would consider it, he stated. “The government should say how many months it wants,” he said.

It did sound like the red shirts were waiting for a way out. Public pressure has combined with daily fears of a crackdown, not to mention the harsh environment – extreme heat, the smell, and the fact that it was getting harder every day to mobilise people to join the protests.

An estimated 6,000 red shirts gathered at the protest site during the day yesterday, and some 8,000 last night, far fewer than when the rallies began.

— Tulsathit Taptim

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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