Given the loud whistles, colourful flags and all-round cheer, there is every chance of the anti-government blockade in Thailand lending itself to a description of a gigantic picnic. Only the harsh realities that underlie the spectacle make sure it is not. Despite pretending to be unfazed by the demonstrations, the government of Yingluck Shinawatra is on tenterhooks. Its intention is to grin and bear it till the February 2 elections, when it is sure that the Pheu Thai party will come romping home, as every pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party has done in each election since 2001. The other intention is to prevent an outbreak of violence that would provoke further public anger against the government. Not surprisingly, Bangkok is seeing the deployment of a minuscule police force, mainly for the protection of government buildings and staff. Behind the government’s almost feather-touch handling of the situation is its other grave fear — the chances of a coup d’état. Thailand is believed to have seen as many as 18 coups since the end of monarchist rule in 1932, and the fact that the army has pledged to see that demonstrators are not ‘harmed’ by the government during the protests shows that it is no longer a disinterested spectator to the goings-on. Although the government suspects that the Democratic Party, which is spearheading the demonstration, may try to foment trouble in order to facilitate a violent overthrow of government, that may not necessarily be the way the Opposition party is looking at the future. Violence that immediately brings the army into play is unlikely to be welcomed by the Opposition. Like the rest of the country, it too has experienced the unsavouriness of military rule for a significant period in Thailand’s history. Besides, a military intervention, for which the Democratic Party could be held responsible, might make the Shinawatras more popular, as it did the last time in 2011. Hence the Democratic Party is likely to try its best to keep the protest as peaceful as possible.
Unfortunately, no party seems to be in absolute control over the situation. Already, two persons have been killed and there are regular night-time shootings for which no one is willing to take responsibility. The simmering discontent may soon spill over, as it has done several times before when peaceful demonstrations turned into bloodbaths. And then, the parties in the unholy power struggle in Thailand may see that it is once again the army that has stolen their thunder.