The red shirts, their petition and conservative opponents

1 08 2009

Red shirts rally at Sanam Luang

The Bangkok Post (31 July 2009: “Sanam Luang security tight for final petition rally”) reports a police estimate that the size of the red shirt-United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) rally at Sanam Luang was to approach 30,000. By all accounts, it was a very large crowd, and may have exceeded this estimate. The rally is meant to be the culmination of the campaign to get Thaksin Shinawatra a “royal pardon.”

Television reporting of the event was apparently muted. PPT may have missed some reports, but a quick look at television news reports suggested something of a blackout of stories from Sanam Luang, especially on vision of the event. Where are all of those who complained of government control of the media under previous administrations?

Red news broadcasters, including the taxi community radio station, provided extension coverage.

The Bangkok Post (31 July 2009: “UDD petition campaign culminates at Sanam Luang”) reports that UDD leader Nattawut Saikua said: “We expect to have as many as five million signatures in the end…”. He added “We plan to seek royal mercy on our leader’s behalf.”

Nattawut has exaggerated numbers in the past, but even if this is a political exaggeration, the reaction from the conservatives and the palace suggests that they have been startled by the numbers signing-up. The Nation (1 August 2009: “Red shirts claim 4m signatures”) says the claim was 4.19 million.

The Nation reports that Thaksin phoned-in to the rally and “thanked his supporters for backing the signature campaign and said he felt highly grateful to them.” He added, “I want to return your favour by working for you, which I can’t do now. If I can work to return your favour, I will be able to die peacefully…”.

The Post reports that: “Police surrounded Sanam Luang to ensure a peaceful rally.” Some 1,800 police were deployed. This is somewhat odd as there have been no indications of any plan to be other than peaceful, apart from politically-motivated claims from Democrat Party members and other opponents of the red shirts who want to maintain the fear amongst Bangkok’s middle class based on the Songkhran Uprising in April.

The great fear

The fearful response to the petition continues to motivate government supporters. Raising the royal stakes, “government coalition party Chart Thai Pattana urged Thaksin to tell his supporters to abandon the petition, to prove his loyalty to the royal institution.” The implication is clear.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has had his say (, 30 July 2009: “Thai PM warns against royal pardon petition for Thaksin”). He warned Thaksin supporters against signing the petition and said “It’s not possible for people to sign up to seek a royal pardon…”. This might well be true in the case of a pardon, but royalists have long claimed that the right to petition the king is one of the strengths of the monarchy, even if they base this claim on a faulty reading of history (see here).

Then Abhisit makes the startling claim that the highly publicized red shirt campaign is “manipulating innocent people.” Abhisit adds, “We have to be cautious because these masterminds have complicated matters and people could fall victim to their provocations…”. This seems a replay of the claim that Thaksin managed to manipulate or hoodwink people into voting for him and his supporters again, and again, and again. It seems Abhisit has learned little about on-the-ground politics.

Working the fear angle, former prime minister Chuan Leekpai, who is chief adviser of the Democrat Party, “warned the government to pay close attention the red-shirts’ activities.” He said: “I have warned the government not to ignore the red-shirt movement…. They previously announced that the government would not last more than three months, and then there was chaos in April, which was the third month that the government was in office. And now they are on the move again…”.

So much for all those Democrat Party claims that they support peaceful demonstrations. PPT guesses that the Democrats only see protestors clad in yellow as peaceful and legal.

Universities controlled by conservative royalists

Meanwhile, The Nation (1 August 2009: “Rectors of 26 universities sign name against Thaksin petition”) reports that the rectors of “all 26 state universities have signed their name[s to a letter] to express opposition to the red-shirt movement campaign to gather signatures to petition His Majesty for a pardon for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.”

Led by the remarkably conservative and royalist “Professor Doctor” Phirom Kamolratanakul of Chulalongkorn University, which is now the bastion of yellow-shirted academics, “Phirom said the rectors saw that the universities should provide correct guidance and a way-out for the society to try to end the on-going divisiveness.”

Note the term “correct guidance.” The conservatives are pulling together. Remarkably, the disingenuous Phirom claims that the “rectors did not take side[s] but they based their decision on academic decision.” How Phirom can make such ridiculous claims with a straight face is anybody’s guess. The claim to anything “academic” in the political position taken by the rectors is mind boggling.

Phirom said that “the rectors would submit a letter to the Office of His Majesty Principal Private Secretary, asking it not to forward the petition of the red-shirt movement to His Majesty.” That clearly demonstrates that they are not taking sides….

In fact, Thailand’s state universities are in serious trouble, with their conservative administrations banning students seen as anti-monarchy and preventing hires of academics who are not considered “yellow.”



2 responses

6 08 2009
New: Conservative academics « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Conservative academics PPT recently noted a petition – oops, letter – by the rectors of all state universities expressing opposition […]

3 09 2009
New: Violence predicted, again « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Menwhile, Interior Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul worried about September and October as politically fragile months and “former prime minister Chuan Leekpai said the government should be careful about the red shirts’ protest on September 19, as nobody would forgive them if chaos erupted again like that in Pattaya in April.” Oops, he speculated and not for the first time. […]

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