Around half a million DAAD Red Shirts have taken to the streets of Bangkok in an attempt to oust the puppet Thai government.
The rally comes in wake of the high court decision to seize most of the assets of exile Thai Prime Minister Taksin Chinawat.
Thai media has been scare mongering about potential violent clashes between red and yellow shirts and bombings, as the hordes of peasants farmers descend upon the capital. Foreign governments have advised against travel and the military and police have been intercepting buses and trucks full of red shirts on their way to the capital. The Thai government also made a new law saying any foreign nationals that join the protest will be liable for up to two years imprisonment.
Despite this the protest is going ahead peacefully. There is a long tradition in Thai politics of such rallies as these bringing governments down, but this has mostly been due to their effects on the palace and army who have oppossed the ruling government.
An estimated 5000 Red Guards dressed in Flak Jackets and helmets including 200 mobile units have been stationed by Red Shirt leaders around the city to intercept anyone wearing a red shirt committing acts of violence, in response to claims security services, police and yellow shirts, dressed as red shirts at previous rallies commited acts to blacken the movement's name.
Interesting. I don't have
Interesting. I don't have anything but a superficial understanding of the situation in Thailand. From what I understand, however, the choice of red is not significant and in fact many in the UDD support Thaksin, even though this guy is a big capitalist. It appears to be a bourgeois-democratic problem of abolishing the military dictatorship and having fresh elections. Am I right about this? Where I can read more to get perspective? The Wikipedia articles are a little confusing...
I was based in Thailand for 8
I was based in Thailand for 8 years as a journo, unfortuanately I left not long after Taksin came to power, so am trying to make sense of things too. I'll have a go, but no promises on accuracy.
Paul Handley in his book gives a good explanation, that basically the whole stystem of government they have built up since the 1932 coup doesn't work, and Thailand has the problem an incurable failing governmental system.
Basically in Thialand there are no clear cut sides or agendas. Within sides there are factions and within factions completely different interests.
Taksin the richest man in Thailand formed a new party and took power in a landslide election by appealing to all sides. To the wealthy Chinese corperate elite he was a fellow Chinese business leader and could end the recession since the Asian Economic Crash, to the educated middle classes as the man who would fight corruption, to the right wing nationalist parties and army by being a former minister in one and promising a moral crusade and to the rural poor by promising handouts and allying with their political movements.
He obviously couldn't deliver to all. The recession didn't stop, he was corrupt, seriously corrupt. But to the poor he did deliver, creating a universal healthcare system in a country with no wealthfare and if you were poor and got ill, you died, he also gave villages huge development funds. He paid for this by taxing the rich and middle classes. He started a moral clampdown having women arrested for walking past temples in short skirts. Created draconian anti drugs laws had several thousand drug dealers, and many inoccent victims, extrajudicailly killed by the police and masscred thousand of muslim insurrectionary suspects in the south. Finally he sold his telecoms monopoly to to Japanese country which made his zenophobic nationalist supporters livid.
He then stood for a second election. The poor with their healthcare, handouts, debt relief loved him, so did much of the right with the moral clampdown and drugs crusade. But the wealthy and middle classes hated him and he was corrupt, hadn't stopped the recession and was taxing them to give to the poor. So they turned to their traditional party the Democrats. However simple mathmatics, the poor were more numerous and returned him to power.
Next he turned his attention to the king who was dying and the source of the army's power. His heir the prince is hated by the people, much of the army and considered by most untrustworthy the hold power. Taksin did a huge business deal and effectively bought the prince. So held the next king in his pocket, which would effectively break the military's power and make him the Chavez of Thailand.
Unable to beat Taksin with votes an alliance of forces fomed against him, who all disliked each other but Taksin more. The Yellow Shirts and groups of pro-royalist middle class tax payers who didn't want to continue subsidising his handout to the poor, hated corruption and Taksin owning the next king. Several factions of the army. The 'free market' Democratic Party supported by the corperate elite and all the money. The Democrats refused to stand for the next election handing Taksin a walkover. The Yellow Shirts took organised mass protests and to free the country from 'Parliamentry Dictatorship, so at request of the people and by approval of the king, the army seized power.
The army held power for a year, just about, and the various factions within it barely managed not to start shooting at each other as usual. Elections were ordered and the Democrats expected to win.
Taksin's Party was outlawed, the highest ranking 100 or so members banned from politics. He formed a new party from exile, bought Man City, the new party stood on the election policy of continus Taksin's policies and won. The whole coup had be pointless and the Taksin opposition were left nashing their teeth. It was quite clear they could never hold democratic power.
So they orchestrated another coup. The Yellow Shirts took the airport, the police and army refused governmental orders to break it up. The electoral commission declared the election results illegal, banned Taksin's new party, banned all their leaders and appointed the election runners up the Democrats the new winners. A month later the Newcastle born new Thai prime minister visited the SOAS to give a lecture on democracy.
The unholy alliance quickly broke up, The Democrats are still in power. The army are on the verge of couping against them. The Yellow Shirts have formed a party to stand against if their are elections, the army hate them and their leader drive around in an armoured car with bombs exploding around him.
Meanwhile Taksin's supporters have formed another party who are ahead in the polls and the Red Shirts want an election. Hence this protest.
Update to this. The BBC reports that the red shirts have been staging simultaneous demonstrations all over the country. No further insight at present.
Thank you Jaocheu - very illuminating. I also like the use of "acts." Very "Karl Marx"ish, haha.
I've thinking about it a
I've thinking about it a little since I made that last post.
Effectively what is happening in Thailand is pure class war, the rural poor, subsistance farmers and unskilled manual labourers from the poorest regions of the country vs the ruling class and middle classes.
The only trouble is the poor are lead by a demagogue akin to Chavez, come from a country that had killed the last lefties it had in jungle in the 60's and has had only opposing rightwing political parties since. So there is no knowledge of left wing political values in the country and even radical movements are pretty conservative and nationalistic in their agenda.
If they got rid of Taksin and lead themselves they would be a very anarchistic movement, they are beginning to developing unthinkable left wing values too as their struggle continues, anti royalism was utterly unthinkable a few years ago, now the movement is developing anti-royalist sentiments.
I have read no anarchist opinion on them but I have seen three Marxist views.
One was akin to a militant strategy, that Marxists should join the red shirts, from within they could influence and educate the movement to abandon its current leadership and develop a more internationalist and tolerant attitude.
Another was from some Maoists, they said the movement was flawed in that it was not revolutionary. The red shirts, if there is election can win so have no need for a revolution to take power, unless continually denied one. However you can't change the system from an election victory so they need to become a revolutionary movement.
Finally in the tradition of Trotsky at Kronstadt and bunch of lefties wrote. They are a non-working class movement, in fact most of the working class are lining up alongside the ruling class in this struggle, so they are a counter revolutionary movement.
Quote: Finally in the
Seing a populist movement for what it is does not equate to being Trotsky at Krondstadt. Just because a lot of UDD supporters are poor, it doesn't mean that the UDD is a working class movement. By that token, the Tories are a working class movement.
Also, aren't these the nutters that chucked a load of blood at the police the other day? Fucking mental.
Giles Ji Ungpakorn writes
Giles Ji Ungpakorn writes alot about the situation (he feld thailand because of his criticism of the monarch didnt go down too well) anyway I think he is a trot, generally a supporter of the red shirts, have a dig through his blog if you want, some interesting stuff.
He from a family of
He from a family of dissidents. He's an orthodox Marxist and IST member. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Bj4GBr24KA&feature=PlayList&p=B140B1821DDF5139&index=0&playnext=1
He's also on this site too, http://libcom.org/history/1850-today-thailand
His brother runs the non-Marxist, http://www.prachatai.com/ Thailand's only free political news source. (English link in menu bar)
Wow, the whole thing sounds
Wow, the whole thing sounds almost as batshit-insane as ... here in America!
A quick update - three weeks
A quick update - three weeks on.
The Red Shirt protest continues.
A rival protest occured this week by the Thai Tourist industry protesting against both sides, Red Shrits and government, saying Thailand's biggest industry has virtually been destroyed by the ongoing crisis. With tourist number down to a new low.
Meanwhile the Red Shirts have now moved their protest on to closing shopping malls. Bangkok is the shopping Mall capital of the world, with the 3 largest Malls on earth and over 100 in city, the mediium size ones the size of the largest in Britain.
This map of the city shows the protest locations and locations of the 20+ explosions in Bangkok since it started.
The government has now issued warrants for the arrest of the Red Shirt leaders after the Prime Minister came out of hiding in a military base to meet them, refusing to name a date for the dissolution of the government.
Earlier this week the government sent a force of entirely female police officers amongst the protesters to hand out leaflet's telling the protesters to go home, the Red Shirts simply tore up the leaflets and Thai news reports say a large number of new protesters have arrived this weekend.
Apart from the visible
Apart from the visible elments of the protests in Bangkok, there seem to be many issues under the surface here, ranging from popular anti-chinese sentiment to astrology and traditional thai sorcery!
Interestingly enough, both Thaksin and Abbhisit are Thai Chinese of Hakka descent, while the majority of the red shirts are Thais from the poor north-east of Thailand.
Bangkok has a large precentage of the wealthy Thai - Chinese living there. If the army and police crack down violently on the red shirt protestors, any subsequent violence and mayhem could well end up focused on them. The elites in Bangkok are treading very carefully now.
Some of them are probably frightened of a repeat of what happened in Jakarta in May 1998:
May 1998 Jakarta Riots
Especially since many Thais in the north-east believe, rightly or wrongly, that China's Mekong River project is causing the recent droughts in Thailand and other Mekong Delta areas:
Countries Blame China, Not Nature, for Water Shortage
Anti-Chinese sentiment is increasing all over south east Asia hand in hand with China's increasing economic leverage in the region. For example, in the Phillipines because of alleged rice price manipulation:
Philippines rice shortages cause chaos
Anti-Chinese cracks in Philippine rice bowls
and potentially in Indonesia, as a result of a new free trade agreement:
Soaring soyabean price stirs anger among poor
Back to Bangkok, most wish for a non-violent solution to the current confiict, but already bombs are being thrown, unfortunately not in the spirit of the FAI ("Arroja la bomba" ) but more as acts of provocation by elements linked to the military:
Blasts aimed at disrupting peace
Another factor which can't be ignored is the influence of superstition and traditional beliefs on the rural poor, and the manipulation by the Thai-Chinese elite of these beliefs:
The spirits, the stars, and Thai politics
Here is a short timeline of the latest series of events:
Timeline of the Red Shirt Protestors Activities
and a longer one from the BBC:
and a good analysis of foreigner perspectives from Danny Unger, a Political Science Professor at Illinois University:
Bewildered in Bangkok
Well, interesting times, as they say!
We are the Folk Song Army
Every one of us cares
We all hate poverty, war and injustice
Unlike the rest of you squares
Remember the war against Franco
That's the kind where each of us belongs...
Tom Lehrer, The Folk Song Army
explains this cartoon
True there are anti Chinese
True there are anti Chinese sentiments in Indonesia and Malaysia but this not so in Thailand. Thailand had a Thai/Chinese conflict in the past, best summed up when the King wrote a piece in a newspaper at the turn of the century calling the Chinese the Jews of Thailand. Later the Fascist dictator Pibun Songkran a Chinese hater addressed the problem during his reign, outlawing Chinese schools, the Chinese language, Chinese dress, forcing Chinese to take Thai names, he even demolished some Chinese housing ghettos.
50 years later Chinese/Thai only means a person who is Thai but has some Chinese ancestry, it is something to be quite proud of and gets no hatred these days. Chinese Thais think of themselves 100% as Thai. Most northern Thais have Chinese heritage stretching back centuries and most Thais who live in cities around the country have a 1 or 2 grandparents who are Chinese. It's seen as a positive thing and most actors and singers in Thailand look very Chinese as this is Thai concept of beauty. There is a tiny minority of billionaires who have not integrated and maintain a very Chinese life.
Actually the people from the North East of Thailand are not Thais, most are Lao and speakers of the Lao language, though a few are Cambodian and speak Cambodian. And this is more the ethnic make of the conflct as Thais historically haven't particularly liked Lao.
Just before the British and French arrived Thailand was an expanding empire, invading Malaysia, Lao, Burma and Cambodia. This was halted by the westerners who drew the border lines with Thailand inhereting a bit of land from each of these countries. Hence they have a Muslim south and a whole Khmer speaking city in the east.
The north and south of Thailand don't have huge populations, however the Lao speaking Northeast of Thailand is nowadays by far the most populous part having at least 1/3 the population of the country. This rural, deliberately neglected and considered second rate part of the country now effectively is the most powerful part of the country in a democratic system which is a problem because sakdina reqires them to know their place and accept the rule of there betters in Bangkok, but they aren't. And tha'ts the problem wealthy eduated people Thai and Chinese/Thais can't accept peasant Lao can or should have an equal opinion.
Latest update. Earlier this
Earlier this week Red Shirts broke into and temporarily held the parliament buidings.
This week The Thai PM declared a state of emergency, the one TV channel supporting the Red Shorts was taken off air. Prachatai Thailand's only free news service dispersed and went into safe houses and warrant's were issued for the arrest of red shirts also the governement officially cancelled Songran celebrations the biggest holiday in the Thai calender (about the same magnitute as Xmas).
Meanwhile more red shirts poured into the capital and major protests have been launched in other cities around the country. The protesters are targetting finacial districts and tourism attempting to close business down. They also are attempting to seize TV channels.
On Friday police use tear gas and water cannon against protestors. Red leaders have called for the prime minister to leave the capital.
Today tanks have been deployed on the streets and the army have moved. Thai TV reports 8 people are dead so far, six reds and two soldiers.
A very polarised debate on
A very polarised debate on democracy now. Worth a listen