Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Colourful Times in Thailand

September 19, 2006 feels like only yesterday. I was coerced out of a bar in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit district by menacing men dressed in kaki, declaring Marshall Law from loud speakers, as Vaxhall Tanks rolled insidiously down the road in front of me. On this day, Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted from government, and sent packing to a life lived outside Thai borders. Thankfully I made it back to my bedsit unharmed that evening, albeit with the odious sent of violence in the air and a feeling in my stomach, that to this day, I can’t quite put into words. That day in October the ‘yellow shirts’ over threw the government, and ushered in the new age of colour politics.

Today, the dark undercurrents of political violence are threatening again, casting up reminiscent shadows that are all too familiar. A mass anti-government demonstration is to be held in Thailand’s capital at the weekend, and with Thailand’s record of violence at such events, the situation has the potential to explode.

The demonstration at the weekend is being held by the UDD.

Clad in red t-shirts, the UDD movement (The National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship), support the former prime Thaksin Shinawatra. (Bizarrely involved in Cambodian policy making at present)

The ‘red shirts’ as they are colloquially know, have a highly organized (and financed) grassroots movement based mainly in the heavily populated north east of the country. They are a self-styled party of the poor, and claim to have purer democratic intentions that the current government. The movement denounces Prime Minister Abhisit (leader of the Democratic Party), claming he and his party took power 'illegitimately', backed by the Thai army and bureaucrats. It calls for the Thai Parliament to be dissolved and a general re-election to be held. The ‘reds’ speak openly about their non-violent nature of their activities and discourse, and have a highly active propaganda machine; including a television station that pumps out the party message on a loop. Daily, I walk past road-side houses which have large televisions, hooked up to bass bins; in front a sea of red shirts sit crossed legged, drinking whisky, eating snacks, glued to the images ahead.

An armchair analysis of the situation will conclude that the ‘reds’ still lack vital inspirational/visionary leadership. They lack charisma at the top, and this could prove to be their undoing. The era of Thaksin as a tangible political force within the democratic system is undoubtedly over; and, if the ‘reds’ are going to advance within a democratic framework, they need to solve this problem. It seems clear that the way forward for the UDD, is to compact their deep and far reaching support base, and form into an independent labour party. This way they would have a clear vision, instead as acting as the ‘hired hands of a corrupt politician,’ as one writer succinctly put it in the Bangkok Post this week.

After examining the UDD’s six party principles, there is little that any Thai would disagree with: establishing a true democracy with HM the King as head if state; overthrowing the bureaucratic system; acting in a strictly non-violent manner; establishing justice and the rule of law; improving the economic well-being of all people; and bring back the 1997 constitution.

It can be stated unequivocally, that the ‘reds’ have not only a democratic right to protest, but a good reason for voicing their grievances in the current political climate. In recent times, leaving aside last months liquidation of 1.2 Billion Dollars worth of Thaksin’s assets by the central government, there have been a number of economic blunders that deserve a more attention than a raised eyebrow: For instance, the GT200 bomb detectors, bought from a British company last year, have been proven ineffective in finding explosives in Thailand’s war-torn southern regions. Prime Minister Abhisit has spoken out against this purchase by the military, criticizing the top-brass, referring to the GT200’s as ‘useless.’ But, even in the face of scientific fact, and ministerial abhorrence, Army commander-in-chief Anupong Paojinda is defiant. Contrast this situation with the 350 million Baht ‘Sky Dragon’, the world first counter-insurgency blimp. The military are now in doubt to whether it is capable of flight. These two issues have compounded anti-government sentiment.

These issues have caused embarrassment in full view front of the medias watchful eye, but worryingly for Thailand, there have been many other such crippling misadventures with the public wallet.

Two wasteful episodes on their own are worth shouting about, and provide the ‘reds’ with a legitimate focus outside the arena of Thaskin worship. The ‘red’ leaders have called for justice on these issues, stating that those responsible should be brought to account, and righty so.

This situation leads me to some contradictions concerning the ‘red’ movement and their fight:

In their six party principles the UDD state firmly that they want justice and a rule of law, yet call the judicial system bias in the recent Thaskin liquidation case even though it previously acquitted Thaskin himself, his ex-wife, and five of Thaksin’s cabinet ministers on another charge Now, these don’t sounds like pre-determined judgments considering the seriousness of the latter changers and the equital that followed. Surely any bias system would have brought the heavy hand of the law down hard at this stage of the proceedings? Is the ‘red’ movement interested in true democratic justice, or some kind diluted ‘red’ justice.

Also, stated in the UDD’s six party principles was the avocation of non-violence. Now, one only has to cast one’s mind back to last years Asean Summit in Pattaya when a sea of red shirts attacked Prime Minister Abhisit’s car at the interior ministry. This stands in stark contrast to the movement’s claims to non-violence. And, with the fiery rhetoric being lambasted from the ‘reds’ leadership over the last few months, few would be surprised if events at the weekend turned sour.

The events in Bangkok at the weekend will be watches closely by many around there world. It is sincerely hoped that violence will not spoil the political aspirations of a movement that has built up a legitimate voice in Thailand, and has a realistic future within a democratic framework.


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