It’s a big news day, so PPT offers some summary and limited commentary.
Red in the provinces: Much of the media has been silent on big red shirt rallies held recently in the north and northeast. Some foreign journalists have been out and about and reporting. Marwaan Macan-Markar (IPS News, 8 February 2010) reports on a visit to the northeast. He writes of fund-raising events in and around Udorn where local people pay to attend and have a meal while listening to anti-government tirades delivered from a stage. One local states “These events are important to us. They are part of our learning to fight for democracy because it is being destroyed…. Right now the poor in this area know more about democracy than before. We come here to share this knowledge.”
Marwaan reports that “the increasingly politically awakened provincial voters [see Thaksin as]… a victim of an anti-democratic political machine in the hands of Bangkok’s aristocracy, monarchists and the conservative bureaucratic elite, which includes the country’s powerful army.” He adds that the “growing red wave of the UDD that is manifest in these nightly events is helping to sustain a view that Thailand’s social and political divisions are widening. Thaksin’s role has sustained this, for he is a much reviled figure among a cross section of the country’s well-heeled, the urban elite and the pro-royalist political establishment.”
Down the road in Khon Kaen, there was a rally on the last day of January that drew an estimated 100,000 people, and that estimate is from the government side. In Ubon Ratchathani, the next day, some 50,000 rallied.
Countering red shirts with scare tactics: Of course, the government cannot allow it to be thought that they red shirts might be raising their own funds. Leading the charge is the usual suspect, acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn. He’s reported in The Nation (10 February 2010) claiming that the “authorities” have managed to discover “unusually large sums of money” being transferred “from overseas and local sources to the bank accounts of red-shirt leaders.” The spokesman refers to the funds being “transferred to violence-prone people.” In case the frightened Bangkokians hadn’t got the message, the spokesman added: “If that is the case, we can be sure the situation is going to be violent…”.
No prizes for guessing where the alleged transfers are coming from: “the Middle East and somewhere in Asia…”. Panitan added that some “of the money was transferred from financiers in the country and some were smuggled through normal channels…”. In another report (below) Panitan claimed the “normal channels” were an “old soldier had also carried the money into the country via the Suvarnabhumi airport.” He stated that “security agencies were investigating the money transfers.”
PPT wonders how Panitan gets this information. We recall that Thaksin’s government was heavily criticized for using the Anti-Money Laundering agency for political purposes. Is it now legal and acceptable for the current government to do this?
Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan has argued, contrary to Panitan’s alarmist allegations, that “red shirts would adhere to peaceful means in their fight.” He added: “We don’t want to take the same path as the April incident. The government passed the blame on us for the disturbance. So we have to declare our stance of never resorting to violence…”. Another red-shirt leader, Weng Tojirakarn said the “government’s security alert is an overreaction. He said plans to boost security forces in 38 provinces, including the setting up of 200 checkpoints in the capital, will cause unjustified anxiety.”
Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post (10 February 2010) reports the Puea Thai chairman General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh as denying an “allegation that Gen Chavalit received money from former prime minister Thaksin…”. He is reported to have claimed that the allegation is “groundless.” The party claims “the government has been trying to slander its rivals.”
More coup talk: The latest talk from the coup rumor mill is that there might be a coup to support Abhisit Vejjajiva as prime minister if it is found that one of the smaller government coalition partners is going to decamp and join the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra Peua Thai Party. That would lead to the fall of the government and is unacceptable to the anti-Thaksin coalition. For some news surrounding this, see the Bangkok Post (9 February 2010).
Politicizing Chinese New Year: Even Chinese New Year festivities are in the political cauldron. The Bangkok Post (10 February 2010) reports a “campaign to urge people in Yaowarat to wear pink clothes to celebrate Chinese New Year…”. The Post states: “Red is the auspicious colour traditionally worn to usher in Chinese New Year. The campaign to switch to pink has spread confusion among garment sellers and other people planning to join the festivities in Chinatown.”
This campaign “was launched after Amorn Apithanakul, chairman of the Chinese Thais Association, urged people to don pink instead of red to pay tribute to His Majesty the King during the celebrations.” He has the backing of “two leaders from the local Chinese community, Prapan Santhanati and Charoen Sritrakulkitja.” These Chinese leaders claim that “Red has become a symbol of social division in the country…”. Actually they are wrong. Red is now a color of dissent.
The campaign has, however, “caused confusion among retailers in Yaowarat, the epicentre of Bangkok’s Chinese New Year festival.” Pinit Kanjanachusak, a city councillor for the Samphanthawong district, “strongly criticised the campaign to wear pink. Most people in Yaowarat would wear red as it was a tradition, he said.” That said, it has to be admitted that the Chinese middle class has been in the forefront of opposition to the red shirts.