Red/yellow differences and political tactics

26 03 2010

PPT seldom cites Thanong Khanthong as an accurate source for anything other than the views that circulate in the yellow-shirt rumor mill or for opinions filched from the ASTV/Manager. He is one of those “opinion” page writers who thinks that any opinion, no matter how outlandish, deserves to matter, even when it is built on everything other than a verifiable source.

In The Nation (26 March 2010) opinion pages today, Thanong has his usual mix of old and new rumors, but he also reveals a strange irritation that the current red shirt rally has been non-violent. He seems to share the opinion of the horrid General Panlop Pinmanee who more than a week ago said the red-shirt rally was failing because it was more dramatic. Thanong concludes: “Without a dramatic physical clash, there is no way the red shirts have bargaining power over the government.”

He later blames all the little bombs going off on the red shirts, suggesting their “true” core, but doesn’t explain why he arrives at this position in the absence of any evidence.

Thanong also seems miffed by what he sees as the red shirts changing their demands and he lists a bunch of what he claims these are. PPT isn’t sure what he does with his time, but all the “demands” he lists have been a part of the red shirt discourse for some time. We get the feeling that Thanong is complaining that these red shirt positions on amart, inequality, double standards and so on have actually move the political discourse onto their turf.

Then he makes some quite accurate comments regarding the differences between the red shirt protest and the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy. Thanong says the “red shirts do not enjoy the luxury of time as the yellow shirts did in 2008 when they staged a marathon rally before succeeding in seeing out the Samak and Somchai governments. Then, the military, the judiciary and the Bangkok middle-class appeared to play the same tune with the yellow shirts. Even so it took 193 days to unseat two governments.” In fact “appeared” is not a strong enough word. There’s no doubt that these three groups gave whole-hearted support to PAD and its mission. Sounding very much like a Democrat Party politician PPT heard, Thanong says the “red shirts are only getting support from the police.” He continues: The Bangkok middle-class, the military and the judiciary are not on their side.

Thanong’s conclusion is that “it is almost impossible for the red shirts to force out Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva through the normal game of Thai politics. And adds, “Abhisit understands the game, so he is in no hurry to hold talks with the red shirts. In fact, it’s unlikely he would hold any formal talks with the protest leaders.” In any case, Thanong says that if the red shirts “want to talk about social injustice, Abhisit would be happy to dish out some populist policies in exchange crowd dispersal.

PPT thinks Thanong is correct to observe the differences in the red shirt and yellow shirt rallying. He is also right to consider that Abhisit is unlikely to do anything serious about negotiating.

The government’s control of the media means that it can manage the messages and images projected. It seems the government is happy enough for its supporters to arrange small, media-oriented “demonstrations” of support from what the media portray as the “silent majority,” to promote huge displays of military “security” and to let the small bombs maintain “the fear” amongst the middle class and hope that the red shirt staying power declines.

Of course, in a volatile environment, things can change rapidly. Recall the boost PAD got when violence erupted on 7 October 2008. However, Thanong’s assessment of the red shirt need for violence seems misplaced in circumstances where the red shirt discourse on power remains relatively strong despite government media dominance. But it is tough going for them to maintain the rally and the enthusiasm of supporters.


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