Saturday, 13 March 2010
Bangkok Dangerous - Maybe Not After All.
It seems that the sea of red expected in Bangkok is more of a medium size estuary. Having said that, tributaries are still flowing steadily from the source, and by tonight who knows how grand the spectacle will be. On Friday red shirt officials had expected 1,000,000 protesters to fill the capital’s streets, but presently, this looks highly unlikely. More realistic estimates lie around the 200,000 mark; sizable, yes; capable of forcing the dissolution of the lower parliament, I think not.
What could be the reason for this massive underestimation of people power? It could be the reduction in ‘expenses’ paid to the movement for travel costs. As in any country political influence does not come without considerable expense; Thailand is no exception. A handful of cash, a red t-shirt, and a plastic clapper can arguably buy you a political activist for the day, with whole villages seemingly reveling a collective sense of purpose.
From a Western perspective this practice is questionable, but with the majority of the reds shirts support coming from the abstractly poor North East, it can be excused. This is political expediency Thai Style.
The movement’s grievances have been exacerbated in the last two years by a government that has openly questioned the reds intellectual prowess, and thus, political credibility. Crass arrogance such as this is a major issue in a county where face, or the loss of it, is everything. But, as an objective observer it takes some effort to swerve around this cash for protest politics.
Somtow Sucharitkul, an noteworthy Thai blogger based in Bangkok (http://www.somtow.org/) has this to say: ‘What I am sure about it that my housekeeper told me that according to her sources upcountry the fee for protesting is 500 baht, minus 300 which must be paid to an agent. The newspapers printed that it was 1,500 and that people were objecting to how little money they were getting to protest compared to last time. If it's 500 a day for 3 days, I guess the figures match. My housekeeper said, "My village isn't coming to the protests. They're not getting enough money, and last time it was too hot and it wasn't what we were expecting.’
What ever your opinion a fine line exists between poverty and political exploitation, especially when an aggressive propaganda machine promises imminent wealth to those adorned with a red t-shirt. It would be too cynical to doubt red shirt sincerity entirely, but in the developing world a little money can go a long way.