17 March, 2010

THAILAND protests update - breaking news

Our friends in Bangkok have said they're staying indoors and out of the way, as moving around in the city at this stage is pretty pointless, and nobody wants to catch any stray bullets, heaven forbid. Local Bangkokers at this stage seem to just be pretty bloody annoyed that a bunch of country bumpkins have rolled in and stopped them from going about their daily business, at least at this stage.

Today the Red Shirts gathered outside the 11th Infantry Regiment's army base in Bangkok - said to be where PM Abhisit Vejajiva was holding up - he left via helicopter not long after they arrived. Interesting trivia is that the Military's way of dealing with them was playing them I'saan music over loudhailers, and it was also reported that they even addressed the crowd as "brothers and sisters", speaking in I'saan.

What's transpiring is very interesting - the Red Shirts clearly want some kind of a confrontation, or violence, to prove that the "evil" government intends to repress and harm them. But so far, the Military and the government have been on their best behaviour.

The question remains, what will the extreme elements within the red shirts (who were said to have started the violence in April 09's protests) do when they realise that the Military is not going to fire the first shot? Latest reports have the Red Shirts saying that Government Ministers will have to "Walk across one thousand liters of blood" to get to work at government house tomorrow - so it remains to be seen what they mean by that. Today news that four M-79 grenades were fired into a military batallion outside the State TV headquarters, and STILL no military crackdown. This is incredible and unprecedented - the army are quite obviously on their best behaviour. The Bangkok Post reports that arrests have been made in connection with the case. So far, our direct sources in Bangkok seem to be the best source of information. The Nation and The Bangkok Post (the two main English Dailies) are respectively suspiciously quiet, and suspiciously biased, so I'm thinking there's multiple gag orders in play, though I do get some decent tidbids now and then from my favorite Bangkok blog - 2bangkok.com The rumour at present is that Thaksin Shinawatra is in Montenegro - both Germany and the UK have said that they would not accept him, and if he was recognised in their country, he would be detained. The man is literally on the run, as it were.

And finally, my personal feeling is that the "mainstream media" organisation that seems to be offering the absolute best coverage on the situation so far is - surprise surprise - Al Jazzeera's English service. Im guessing their primary interest is based on the fact that Thaksin Shinawatra was a resident of Dubai for the past twelve months or so - in any case, they are covering the story closely, and it's been on the front page for over 12 hours.

Also - I watched a video of a Red Shirt speaker ("Arisman") in an upcountry pep rally ranting against the government last night. I won't bother posting the link here - it's all in Thai and there's no subtitles, but in a nutshell, the notable talking points were some bizarre conspiracy theories about the government involving bio-weapons, and more interestingly, he was inciting red shirters and saying that if the government did not give into their demands, that they would "wipe off the face of Thailand" all the governments "sensitive sites", including Siriraj hospital. Siriraj hospital is where the ailing King Bhumipol Adulyadej is and has been treated for many months. Yes, they are "peaceful" protesters, apparently.

Let's hope that tomorrow is as peaceful as Sunday turned out to be.

An oldie, but relevant : this was me rather tipsily interviewing some people about the Red Vs Yellow situation in Thailand, back in May last year. FYI, this guy is a TYPICAL "Red Shirter" - lower class, menial laborer - lovely guy. I often joke with friends that if they just instituted a minimum wage in Bangkok, this entire political mess would go away overnight. But sadly, it's true.

And another video: First Civilian victim of a "Red Shirt" Protestor. FYI the cameraman is shouting "POLICE! POLICE!", and when the Police enter they shout "STOP, STOP NOW PLEASE, STOP!"

Video of Red Shirt operatives handing out money to protesters. It should be noted that a) The guy handing out the money has a literal WAD of 1000 Baht notes (1000 THB = roughly AU$33 - enough to eat in Bangkok for over a month) and b) The guy on the loudhailer appears to be shouting in either Lao, or Isan - two dialects not native to Bangkok - probably due to the large number of "up country" people who have been bussed in for the protests.

Question: Based on the coverage I've read, the "red shirts" have all the hallmarks of what in the west would be a left-wing movement - marginalised, working-class, pro-social reform, pro-economic reform - while the yellow shirts seem to likewise have the attributes of a right-wing movement - comfortably elite, conservative, anti-reform.

Yet in the coverage I've never seen the words "left" and "right" used about the groups. Am I reading it wrong?

A lot of what's coming out of Thailand seems to go surprisingly without comment. The world's response to the the yellow shirt movement was surprisingly quiet given that they had, y'know, overthrown a democratically elected government, and held an airport full of people hostage.

It's a very complicated political situation in Thailand, made more difficult by the appearance of a working class rebellion. I don't claim to have all the facts, but it's important to know that the Red Shirts are followers of Thaksin Shinawarta, the ousted mega-millionaire former Prime Minister. Thaksin now lives in exile in Cambodia (where he spends time meddling in Cambodian politics) following charges of corruption within his government related to illegally rewarding his own companies and those of his friends, and for selling off precious Thai resources to other countries - also for his own gain. He now pulls the strings on these protesters by literally paying them to protest (yes, they are receiving actual wages to appear at these protests far beyond their normal daily wage). He holds video conferences with the protesters encouraging them to violently overthrow the government so that he can return to reward them all. While many argue that he made great progress in improving health, education and infrastructure in rural Thailand, others will point out that these were very calculated moves to win large swaths of voters in areas far from view of his cynical political practices. It seems the Red Shirts, rather than freedom fighters, unwittingly support a political agenda that has no long-term solutions for their needs but sells off their land, resources and jobs to the highest bidder. It's difficult to type one side as more or less similar to the American left and right, and really not constructive for understanding the tug of war between military, parliament, royals and the citizenry. That said, my tendency is to imagine Thaksin as the love-child of George Bush and Bill Gates.

One of the ways Thaksin made money was, in exactly the way Anon stated, through the aforementioned airport. It was a multimillion (if not billion) dollar construction, way overbudget and overpriced for what it is (although it is pretty :) ) and paid for with public money awarded to Thaksin's friends.

This also explains why last time the airport was a target for the (peacefull, very polite) yellowshirts; a very symbolic target.

Not much I can add to what Anon above says, except that Thailand, whilst filled with friendly, polite people (my favourite asian country, really) is immensely corrupt. To get anything done, money has to change hands.

The lotteries are one interesting example: everyone pays to play, and that in a country where you can get locked up for gambling in a friendly poker game. And the money ends up ... well, exactly where you think it does.

I am an ex-pat living in Bangkok. Mondays, MOST Thais wear yellow shirts to honor their much-beloved King. The Red Shirts are, as the article says, mostly from Issan -- which is a long way from Bangkok. It is the far east, poorest district of the Kingdom. The former, deposed Prime Minister Thaksin was very popular with farmers because he arranged for large numbers of low-cost loans for farmers. He was also incredibly corrupt (ref: the new airport land deals). He never had majority support in the city of Bangkok. But while 25% of all Thais live in Bangkok, it is still an agrarian society -- most are farmers. Very few of the Red Shirts are educated, as the video shows. The latest reason for the unrest is because two weeks ago, the Thai Supreme Court seized 46 billion baht (about 1.5 billion USD) from the Thaksin estate. At one time, the Thaksin family owned the phone company, several banks, and (literally) 10% of all the stocks traded on the local exchange. He was deposed after selling the phone company AIS to a Singapore group for more than a billion USD and paying ZERO taxes on the sale -- and before anyone noticed that military telephone calls were routed through what then became a foreign-owned company (!). When he next left the country, he was not allowed back in and the courts have been taking what remains of his fortune back, piece-meal. The only people who miss Thaksin are the rural folk. The REAL problem here will come when the ailing King passes away; the transition is not going to go smoothly. (I've lived here ten years, I'll probably leave then.)

Because red and right can't apply here.
Yellow and Red express opinions that can be related to both left and right.

Yellows support the "old elite". The statu quo.
More interestingly, the quite poor Red support outsed prime minister Taksin, a super rich businessman who represents the "wannabe" new elite.

Meanwhile, most of the Thai people don't want to take side.

What is saddening is that the whole situation comes from the culture and education of Thai people. For more than 50 years, the elite managed to use schools and media as brainwashing tools to keep the population very docile and resignated.
I teach in thai schools and I see it everyday: "this is the way it is, be happy with what you have and don't cause trouble".
As a result, everyone shows a lot of respect for the "phuyai", term that designate the upper part of the population. It doesn't bother anyone that super rich stars still appear in new TV commerecials every weeks, even for things like maxipads and mosquito repellent.

Where Taksin was clever, is that he decided to use this brainwashing to create a movement of followers. He dropped few hundred bahts here and there, added some populist measures and bingo.

What we see here are slaves fighting each other for their masters... Yellow or red, it doesn't matter, because in the end, and for half a century already, those who really handle this puppet show are wearing khaki.

I work in front of governement house. Have to go through the mob crowd twice a day to reach my workplace. First came the yellows, then the red, then red again now... what's clearly missing for both sides is simply a manifesto.

The comments so far seem to me to be gross simplifications of what is a very complicated situation in Thailand. There seems also to be an anti-red shirt slant, not to mention an anti-'country bumpkin' bias. This is unfortunate.
I would urge readers not to simplify what's going on here- not reduce it to Thaksin vs. 'Old' Bangkok - since as anyone familiar with Thailand knows, things are far more subtle and the issues more divisive than just Thaksin and his money.
One of the key issues on the table here, among many others, is the attempt to disenfranchise rural voters, on the basis that they are 'too stupid to vote'. Some argue instead for senators to be appointed rather than elected. Other topics critical to Thailand's political future are still not generally discussed because of the stark lese-majeste laws.
For insightful background, diverse opinions, and knowledgeable discussion about Thailand's situation, I would recommend as a starting point a website called the New Mandala.

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posted by u2r2h at Wednesday, March 17, 2010


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