Ji on red shirts and Thai politics

20 09 2010

What the mass Red Shirt rally on Sunday means for Thai politics

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In the afternoon of Sunday 19th September 2010, tens of thousands of Red Shirts returned to the Rajprasong intersection in Bangkok to remember the coup four years previously and the deliberate murder in April and May this year of nearly 90 unarmed demonstrators, many of whom were gunned down by army snipers near Rajprasong. Since the brutal killings by the Abhisit junta, there has been a climate of fear, with hundreds of political prisoners locked up and evidence of extra-judicial killings of some Red Shirt activists. Censorship has remained tight and Thai mainstream TV failed to report the extent of the demonstration, playing down the numbers as usual. Bangkok is still under the Emergency Decree and Red Shirts were given dire warnings by junta politicians and the Generals. They were “ordered” not to block the road. Yet tens of thousands of Red Shirts gathered in Bangkok. There were so many that the road was soon blocked and the size of the demonstration resembled the size of the protests 4 months ago. Thousands also gathered in the northern city of Chiang Mai and there were modest protests in many towns and cities throughout the country. At the same time coordinated protests also took place around the world. In Thailand, two days before the 19th September, thousands laid red roses outside 17 prisons holding political prisoners.

While some jaded hacks and conservative journalists will write about the weakness of the Red Shirts, how they are the “rural poor” and the simple folk “dependend on Taksin”, what the mass protests at Rajprasong show most of all is that the Red Shirt movement is an incredibly resilient grass-roots movement. This is not surprising because Thailand has a long tradition of the struggle for Democracy. What is amazing is that only 4 months after the bloody crackdown, Red Shirts dared to return to the site in very large numbers. Most of those at Rajprasong on the 19th September were from Bangkok, showing that there is mass support in the capital city, not just in the provinces. What is even more encouraging is that people came out to protest in Bangkok because a general call was put out by Sombat Boon-ngarmanong, the organiser of Red Sunday events. Sombat and his colleagues were overwhelmed with emotion at the unexpected response and the size of the protest. Sombat is not a Peua Thai politician but a grass roots pro-democracy activist. He organised the first symbolic protest against the 2006 coup, which I attended. The significance of this is that while most Red Shirt leaders are either in jail or on the run, and while Taksin and top Peua Thai Party officials are calling for reconciliation and compromise with the junta, the Red Shirts are capable of grass roots self-activity.

Many eye-witnesses report that the Red Shirts at Rajprasong were chanting “Hia Sung Ka”, which means “the iguana ordered the killing”. Iguana is a strong term of abuse in Thai. Now this can be interpreted in many ways. It could refer to Abhisit, General Anupong, ex-head of the Army, or Prem. But it might well refer to the King. It may be that people were referring to different figures as they chanted. But my guess is that most meant the King. While this writer does not believe that the King has enough leadership qualities to order anything, this phenomenon does indicate a growing republican movement among millions of Red Shirts following the April/May blood bath.

The 6th October 1976 was the last time in Thai history when the elites successfully gunned down and murdered the democracy movement, in order to stay in power. It took years for the movement to recover, but even then, the growth of the Communist Party forced the ruling class to eventually come to a compromise. This time round, the early shoots of recovery have already started to sprout, only 4 months after the blood bath. What is more, the elites are faced with an open, above ground, mass social movement, made up of millions and this movement is showing self-leadership and radicalisation.



3 responses

23 09 2010
Was the writing on the wall for the monarchy? « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] outside CentralWorld…”. PPT has earlier mentioned reporting of angry chanting here and here. Pravit says the wall outside the burned out shopping complex was previously filled with […]

25 11 2020
History of the Thai pro-democracy movement – Heather Squire

[…] the Mass Red Shirt Rally on Sunday Means for Thai Politics.” Political Prisoners in Thailand, https://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/ji-on-red-shirts-and-thai-politics/. Accessed […]

1 01 2022
History of the Thai Pro-Democracy Movement – Madelyn Mae

[…] the Mass Red Shirt Rally on Sunday Means for Thai Politics.” Political Prisoners in Thailand, https://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/ji-on-red-shirts-and-thai-politics/. Accessed […]

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