Rodger Baker: Hello. I am Rodger Baker, vice president of East Asia-Pacific analysis here at Stratfor. With me from Bangkok, Thailand, is Omar Lamrani, our military analyst. Omar, as you have been walking around Bangkok and been observing these protests, can you give me an impression of the size and scope of what you are seeing?
Omar Lamrani: Sure. The anti-government protests are largely centered in Bangkok with the smaller pro-government protests largely taking place in the neighboring provinces and in the fringes of Bangkok. The protest numbers vary in size from day-to-day but they are likely in the tens of thousands on average and they are mostly focusing on the key intersections and neighborhoods in Bangkok such as Victory Monument, Siam, Asoke and Silom. So they are very highly distributed across the city.
Rodger: Are you seeing a change in either the activity of the protesters or of security forces since the declaration of emergency?
Omar: Not really, actually. The declaration of emergency was established and the protesters reacted to that a little bit angrily and also defaced the facade of the Thai police headquarters, who they accused of siding with the government and not protecting the people. But aside from those incidents there has not really been much change on the ground. The police and army presence remains pervasive, but nothing really — not in terms of clashes and not in terms of numbers. It has remained largely the same since the declaration of martial law.
Rodger: Are you seeing any significant impact on business continuity inside Bangkok at this point?
Omar: Not really, life in Bangkok is largely continuing as normal. There is definitely higher tension of course, but people are still going about their lives as usual. Very few businesses have been closed and aside from some intersections the transportation infrastructure remains open, including the key highways, metro, Skytrain and airports.
Rodger: The constitutional court is supposed to rule tomorrow on whether or not [Prime Minister] Yingluck Shinawatra has the authority and responsibility to delay the elections due to instability. Depending on which way that vote comes out, do you expect to see a change in the situation on the street?
Omar: Yes, I think that if they do decide to go ahead with the Feb. 2 elections, then I do think that the protesters will be under pressure to ramp up their activities and to, besides boycott the elections, also act to disrupt them. Because they do not want them to go forward given the widely held belief that if they do go forward the current party in power would win the elections. For its part, the government would try to maintain a semblance of calm. They will try to work with the police and the army to have the elections go forward and for them to be effective and of course that is why the government has also pushed for this state of emergency to be enacted in anticipation of the potential elections.
Rodger: There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not there is going to be a military coup—if the military will step in or not. The prime minister met with the military leadership today, the opposition has called on the military to support them. Are we seeing any change, or perceived change, in the actions of the military?
Omar: Well the army in particular is definitely a force to watch going forward, as their actions can rapidly tilt the balance toward either side in the dispute. For their hand, the government is trying to show that they are not going to increase tensions, they are trying to work with the military, trying to keep the military on the sidelines going forward. The protesters, the anti-government protesters, are really pushing for the military to intervene, to forcibly depose the government even and sort of change the balance of power in the government. So, for example as I was walking down the street I was looking at the protesters attacking the facade of the Thai police headquarters.
The protesters I talked to made sure to explain to me that they are very much against the police, but they very much respect the army and consider it an uncorrupt institution.
Rodger: Do we know whether or not the somewhat ideological division between the police and the army has been healed over the years or is there still a strong tension between the two organizations?
Omar: I think that largely remains unclear, there is definitely this perception that the police forces have been (if you talk to the anti-government protesters) corrupted by Thaksin’s money, however, for the army the general staff is widely seen to be much more closely aligned to the Bangkok elite, who tend to be against the current party, but there is also suspicions that a lot of the forces, the rank-and-file, might be Red Shirts, actually. So if the army does intervene there is also potential that the army itself might not be as cohesive as one might anticipate.
Rodger: So we have several key dates to be watching as we go forward. We have the announcement by the constitutional court set for tomorrow. Next week their planned large-scale Red Shirt rallies outside of Bangkok and then Feb. 2 is the date of the election, at least for now. And we will keep a very close eye on this situation.
Omar: Thank you for having me.
Rodger: And thank you for watching.
Republishing by The Manila Times of this transcript of the Media Center Conversation is with the express permission of STRATFOR.