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    Posted January 15, 2014 by
    bangkok, Thailand
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Thai military declares coup

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    Bangkok Shutdown...What is it?


           Demonstration in Thailand to protest the corrupted government has moved into the 3rd month with at least 3 times large scale walk in major locations both in Thailand and selected provinces.

           The latest move on demonstrators’ front was a call to “shut down Bangkok” on Monday January 13th, 2014.

           The government side began to worry as the protest began to move into an unfamiliar territory.  Peaceful and civilized demonstration where millions took to the street and could sustain its momentum this long was unheard of before.

           The demonstration was most likely the world first on many counts, such as, the largest number of people, the most clean,peaceful, and jovial, and the effective use of social media for communication and organization.

           Such jovial atmosphere puzzled many foreign press; they somehow forget that the Thais usually smile in all situation.

           The risk of violence and breakdown of public services and utilities was painted by the government whose supporters were themselves involved in the last violent demonstration in 2010 that ended with the burning of several buildings in the major business and shopping district of Bangkok.   

           The target of the protest this time is the government under prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The movement is now at a stalemate. 

           The protestors said that the prime minister was illegal; she should have resigned long ago. The prime minister herself did not heed the call.

           She has continuously claimed that her government came from general election so it has the right to govern. Demonstrators claimed that winning a general election did not give the government a blank cheque to corrupt on an unheard of scale nor to defy the constitutional court.

           The government gave the next twist to the confrontation with a dissolution of parliament and a call for a new general election. The well known argument is “let the people decide.”

           But can the people decide freely?

           Considering generally known widespread vote buying with tactics too clever to be detected and prosecuted, the result therefore did not reflect a truly free choice.

           It should also be noted that information in this country is not generally accessible by all. Many voters upcountry go to the poll to cast votes without much knowledge of party platform nor candidates personal stand. 

           On top of this, voting records of representatives are not meaningful if available. Most crucial issues were casted in secret. Moreover, each representative must follow his party’s decision on how to vote. A majority has absolute power in such a case. 

           The government wants to have new election soonest, but the protestors want a certain reform before election to ensure that the democratic process in the future will function more properly such as the check and balance, a tighter control on corruption. They doubt that the government that comes back to power will enact any reform that erodes its self interest.             

           Now, what about the shutdown?

           By perusing through some speeches of demonstration’s leaders, I figure out that ‘Shutdown’ is a tactic to stop the government from functioning that eventually should lead to a new interim government that will affect reform and hold next general election.

           The government can not function if civil servants do not work for it. So winning the reluctant and cautious civil servants is the target of the present movement.

           Pillars that support Thai government in general are the police, the military, and the civil servants.

           Of the 3 pillars, the government at first relied heavily on police. Thailand was on the verge of becoming a police state where police openly sided with militant protestors, held some innocents without proper trial, neglected its duty as the keeper of law and order, and committed outright violent against unarmed demonstrators.

           Evidence was readily available that they used dangerous chemical and fired tear gas directly into the unarmed crowd; they open fire into the crowd from the top of a government building ... killing and wounding people.        All this happened under the government’s claim that it did everything according to international procedure on crowd control. 

           As the police force could no longer be a direct weapon on crowd dispersement, the government look to the military, but the military stated clearly that it would stand aside because the demonstration has been peaceful. If there is ever an incident of violence in the future, the government will be held responsible.

           Now only the civil servants are left. The government will continue to function as long as the civil servants still come to work.

           This country is administratively highly centralized. Thai civil servants are, therefore,very important and civil servants are sometimes viewed almost as a political party of its own. If the majority of civil servants quit working only for a short period of a few days, the government would have to give up; it is hoped.

           The shutdown then means shutting down all government services. 

           Civil servants naturally tend to maintain the system regardless of which party comes or goes. To call for them to quit working en masse for a few days in order to show their disobedience to the existing government is a difficult to almost impossible task.

           At the moment, it is a hide and seek situation.  The protestors move to one office, all civil servants show their efficiency by moving to work at back up site elsewhere. To be able to function under distress situation seems to be a merit.  Although many of them are sympathizer, they wear the citizen hats only when off office hours while maintaining a role of good obedient civil servants while in office.  

           The task of the demonstrators’ leaders are not totally impossible as at least on Permanent Secretary has shown that he would rather listen to his conscience and ready to accept the risk of being penalized by the power that be.

           The serious questions at the moment are: how other  civil servants are going to act?  If they are going to join the protest, when? If not, what is next?

           We are witnessing another important development on the Thai political scene.

    Michelle Aar


    Jan 15, 2014

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