Media, class and crawling

18 12 2013

In a report of a discussion of social media and news, Pravit Rojanaphruk makes some interesting comments on gibberish propagated by several “columnists” who are popular with the anti-democratic movement.

He points out that these social media promote the notion that the “foreign media is gullible in its coverage of Thai politics.”

PPT has noticed that this theme has been pretty much constant amongst social media sites and in the mainstream media, including The Nation and the Bangkok Post. The latter often reflect the social media anti-democratic activism. Certain Western “commentators” get considerably more attention than they deserve on Thai social media simply because they engage in the same conspiratorial speculation as those associated with the anti-democratic movement or because they repeat the rants of the movement. Most of these Western commentators are extremists who write on global issues on their own blogs speaking to tiny audiences of like-minded fringe fanatics. Yet anti-democratic social media give them a platform in Thailand. Indeed, the Democrat Party even hires some of them.

Pravit cited the “example of Andrew Biggs, a well-known Australian columnist, who wrote on the Bangkok Post that CNN is misled to think that the government is being persecuted by a mob.” In fact, Biggs is an Australian who would not be a columnist anywhere but Thailand. He writes trite nonsense for the children of the elite and reflects that group’s addled sense of entitlement and narrow interests.

But as Pravit points out, “since the discussion of political crisis provided by Thai media is severely limited by lese majeste laws … the foreign media is far better equipped to report about the crisis in an insightful manner.” He adds: “The foreign media are more honest.”Crawling

As for claims by the Thai media that politics in Thailand was not “class warfare,” Pravit observed that “80% of middle class and the elite are on the anti-Thaksin and royalist faction, … while 80% of working class or lower social classes are on Mr. Thaksin′s side.”

Pointedly he added: “Also, if there′s no class, then why are we still crawling down in front of His Majesty the King?”





Another cooking show and swallowing defeat

8 07 2011

PPT has been somewhat amazed at the way the mainstream media has been “handling” their election loss last week. The papers are full of sour grape stories.

Illustrative of the lengths the losers will go is The Nation’s “story” reporting on a complaint lodged that Yingluck Shinawatra engaged in vote-buying in Korat by stirring a few noodles for the cameras. This is indicative of the kinds of media attack, couched as stories from “sources,” all unnamed, that amount to unsubstantiated nonsense.

Then there’s the stories that claim that the Puea Thai Party didn’t win the election, but the Democrat Party lost it because… you choose: they were inept at developing a campaign, Abhisit wrote his own speeches, they had no PR strategy, they waited too long before calling an election, etc. It just goes on and on, and never mentions the fact that the electorate spoke with a resounding rejection of the Democrat Party and a stunning acceptance of Puea Thai’s platform.

The Bangkok Post has a classic example, by Anchalee Kongrut, said to be a feature writer at the newspaper. She asks, as so many others have: “Why did the Democrat Party suffer such a crushing defeat in the general election? Was it a backlash against the military for the 2006 coup? Or were rural voters in the North and Northeast waging a class war on the bourgeoisie, a group that has long supported the Democrats? Or could it simply be that this 65-year-old political party is completely inept at PR and marketing strategy?”

None of those it seems and nor could it have been that the Democrat Party was the core of a regime that killed people, locked them up, played monarchism, censored and repressed. Nope, for Anchalee, it is “a testament to how successfully Thailand’s half-baked democracy has been married to advertising techniques.”

Note that Thailand’s democracy, following a Puea Thai victory, is “half-baked.” And it seems that all that was needed to thrash the incumbent government was branding and communication/marketing. Of course, the very deep and intelligent loser for the premiership doesn’t read marketing books, but Yingluck does. So that must be an advantage over the hapless Mark.

The damned party of the peasants – to be fair, those are PPT’s words – used a U.S.-like campaign team. Mark scribbled his own notes while the scheming Puea Thai “assigned people the specific responsibility of handling a public-relations campaign for Yingluck Shinawatra and writing speeches for her to deliver.” Why, even the Bangkok Post “revealed” that Yingluck’s “PR team choreographed … every move and posture; advising her when she should turn left or right to face the cameras, when she should swivel, or raise her index finger to make that signature No.1 gesture or flash that winning smile of hers.” Goodness, she even “came across as accessible, pleasant and likeable.”

Now how unfair is it! Fancy that nasty Puea Thai being professional about a campaign. Why didn’t the Democrat Party campaign in a professional manner? Too high-minded and intellectual? Too elitist even? PPT thinks that the defeated Democrat Party just thought they could stroll back to government. After all, they had killed people, locked them up, played monarchism, censored and repressed. And with the military and big Sino-Thai business on-side, it should have been a cakewalk.

Poor Anchalee is forced to reveal something: “I have to admit, though, that it was fun to watch Yingluck’s campaign.” Poor Mark just looked uncomfortable doing everyday things. He “came across as the epitome of an elite caste.” Abhisit, it seems, just didn’t understand that you have to give the masses dross and dough. He is said to have been “drawing up policies – not for what the people wanted, but for what he believed they deserved.” Too high-minded, but a good lad.

Of course, behind all of this professionalism and political-business acumen is the Svengali-like Thaksin Shinawatra who has “mesmerised by his … perennial appeal to the proverbial man on the street.” He’s got everyone under his trance and voters as consumers are “too tired to look for the remote to switch channels.”

The thing is, they did “switch channels.” They threw out the Democrat Party and now look forward to something different. They didn’t do that in a trance but as a deliberate and thoughtful attention to the events since 2006. They hope for a better Thailand. They rejected the military and the coup – recall they talked of pressing the reset button on Thai democracy – they didn’t like and took the country backwards in fast rewind.

Giving the electorate some credit just seems too difficult. It’s just impossible to see how “we” – those born to rule and who know best – could have been defeated by the decision of the dark, hot and sweaty masses. It can’t be admitted that the Democrat Party is a failed and essentially unelectable party, beaten this time by a party running its third-string candidates.

 

 





Updated: Amartya Sen on Thailand

18 12 2010

In December 2010:

Speaking on the topic of “Justice and the Social Gap” at the closing ceremony of the third National Health Assembly yesterday, … [Nobel laureate Amartya] Sen said significant inequalities between regions, classes, genders, religions, communities and health are all sources of social discontent facing the country.

“My list of the sources of social gaps is obviously not exhaustive. The basic point to make here is we have to put our heads together and identify what can be and often are sources of inequality that may be particularly important for a particular country,” he said.

And:

Inequality is not only bad in itself but it also contributes to a reduction in social cohesion and unity. It gives birth to aggressive discontent…. Has the division between the privileged and underprivileged been reduced? I don’t know. Certainly there are a lot of grievances.

Hanging out with authoritarian leaders: Sen with Singapore's George Yeo

In July 2010:

Nobel economist Amartya Sen says foreign media describing Thailand’s politics as class warfare are oversimplifying a complex problem….

Some foreign media have reported the protests as being between the rural poor and urban middle class.

But Indian-born economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen says calling the crisis ‘class warfare’ is an ‘oversimplification’ of the problem.

“To describe the whole thing as a class war between the rich and poor of a very complex problem – I could not begin to take that as a good way of describing it,” he said. “While I was skeptical of basically the foreign news coverage, the BBC as well as CNN and it also includes the New York Times, I have to say that I knew well enough both about Thailand and about conflict in general to regard this to be hardly a possible explanation, to say it is class war.”

Oh, we get it… it is not just about class but about inequality, regional disparity, classes, gender, religion [we assume he means for the southern conflict, but look at the incomes data there too], and so on. As far as PPT can discern, Sen is telling a story of class-based politics in Thailand but refusing, as many economists with Nobel prizes do, that class can’t be a driving factor in historical and political development.

And we can’t neglect this point in his Bangkok Post interview: “Thailand is a democracy. There are few democracies in the world where protesters can occupy the centre of the town without being moved out. Thailand does not get enough credit for tolerating that.” We take it that the good professor missed the crackdown by the government that saw at least 92 killed and several thousand injured. Or maybe he just forgot. No he didn’t, he knows, he just wants the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime to get credit for everything but the killing.

Well at least he keeps getting invited back to Thailand by royalists who love having the aura of a Nobel laureate around to speak for them.

Update: A wag suggests we change our title to: Amartya for the amart. It sounds appropriate to us. Another reader asks that PPT say a little more on class. Official statistics and even World Bank analysis show very clearly that inequality in income and wealth and regional disparities are all related to the state’s proxies for class. Those who have least are overwhelmingly in the north and northeast, engage in agriculture, have no land or small plots. The most recent UNDP report on Thailand (a 6MB download) has much of the official data that can be easily read into class categories.





On class and political struggle

16 10 2010

Readers might remember a bit of a kerfuffle around the time of the red shirt demonstrations in March-May over “class warfare” in Thailand. Former leftist and now Democrat Party deputy leader, Kraisak Choonhavan, famously argued against the red shirts having anything to do with class. Writing in May, he was ticked off that the “international media has largely portrayed the protracted protests in Bangkok this past month as a class struggle between rich urban elites and a poor, neglected rural mass.” That perspective was taken up by several in government.

However, it is interesting that government actions betray a view that corruption (double standards?), inequality and difficult rural conditions play a major role in political mobilization. Most recently, The Nation has this conclusion by a government investigation: “In its report, the working group led by PM’s Office Minister Satit Wongnongtaey concluded that the government should focus on solving social and economic inequality, corruption and shortage of land for agricultural and residential purposes, in addition to unfair income levels and high cost of living of poorer people.”





Ji Ungpakorn on ending the violence

18 05 2010

What would end the violence in Bangkok?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

If the military backed Government of Abhisit Vejjajia dissolved parliament, announced fresh elections and ordered a cease fire, the violence would end immediately and the Red Shirts would all go home.

In democratic countries, when there is a crisis, dissolving parliament and calling elections is a normal way to defuse serious tension. In the 1970s British Prime Minister Edward Heath called elections when faced with a massive strike wave. In 1968 the French Government called elections in the face of a crisis. What could be more democratic than asking the people who they wanted to govern the country when there are serious divisions in society? The Abhisit’s Government can only cling to power by shooting civilians, announcing a state of emergency in a quarter of the country and censoring the media and the internet. If the Government wants to claim legitimacy it should submit to the wishes of the people through a general election and prove that it has legitimacy.

The UDD (Red Shirt) leadership has called for an immediate cease fire and talks with the Government. This would also end the killing and violence. Yet Abhisit has refused. Instead he and the army generals have sent snipers and assassination squads into the centre of Bangkok to kill unarmed civilians in their so-called “live firing zone”. Sixty-five people have been killed since April and nearly two thousand injured. Among the dead are paramedics, journalists and at least one ten year-old boy. The Government continues to lie about the military actions and continues to lie that the Red Shirts are “armed terrorists”. Numerous media reports from the BBC, CNN and ABC show this not to be true.

One important reason why the Government will not end the violence is that they know that they would lose an election. They were never elected in the first place and are only in power because of the army and the judiciary that have repeatedly frustrated the democratic process since the 2006 coup. The Government, the Military, the Palace, the majority of the business class, the Judiciary and the top bureaucrats are the elites. For years they have used their extra-constitutional power to exploit and repress the majority of the population. They have shot down pro-democracy demonstrators in 1973, 1976, 1992, 2009 and now in 2010.

This is a class war. But only the naive believe that class war is a simple matter of rich against the poor. The Red Shirts represent workers and small farmers. They are the people who have created the wealth in Thailand, but they have not been able to enjoy the benefits.  Thailand is a very unequal society. Their hopes were raised when millionaire Taksin Shinawat’s Thai Rak Thai Government offered a universal health care scheme and pro-poor policies. They were inflamed when the elites stage a coup against this elected Government in 2006. Now they are standing firm and facing the armed might of the ruling class.

For the above reasons, the Red Shirt protest in the centre of Bangkok is legitimate, even if it disrupts the commercial life in expensive shopping centres and luxury hotels. Anyone who believes in Democracy and Social Justice should support them.





International perspectives on Thailand’s class war

5 04 2010

The brief flurry of excitement over references to class warfare brought angry denials from -well, the ruling class and its minions – that class doesn’t even exist in Thailand. It’s interesting that those who have long fought a class war against those in the bottom ranks of society get fearful when the ideological curtain is even briefly opened. In any case, PPT wondered what some of the international Marxist media was saying. Here are a couple of examples that may be of interest to our readers:

Danielle Sabaï, Thailand: New stage in the “class war”, at International Viewpoint; and

Joe Gold, Thailand: How will it end?, In Defence of Marxism.





With 3 updates: Reaction to reds and talks

30 03 2010

Update 1: It seems that the Bangkok Post’s usually reasonably reliable military affairs reporter Wassana got it wrong in her article cited below on the location of the cabinet meeting. Channel 3 shows the cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Public Health, surrounded by soldiers and police.

Update 2: The Nation (31 March 2010) has a surprisigly fair account of the second round of talks. This is an interesting point:

Veera [Musikapong] tried to befriend the youthful premier by saying: ‘We are the same, we are all victims of the military coup’. ‘Not exactly,’ Abhisit should have said, before he began justifying the 2006 military coup, the junta-sponsored Constitution and his government that took the power in accordance with the Constitution. Instead, he implied: “If there was no Thaksin, there would have been no coup.”

PPT can confirm from our own meetings that most senior Democrat Party members have this same view, blaming Thaksin Shinawatra for everything and believe that the “fight to the death” is justified in keeping Thaksin at bay. See our earlier post about Kasit.

And this also: “As the Oxford-educated Abhisit continued lecturing about the philosophy of democracy, Jatuporn Promphan, another red-shirt leader, decided to fight back like a pit bull, breaking up the philosophical debate and dragging the negotiators back to the real issue. ‘We are here to talk about the dissolution of Parliament. If the government will not accept this, should we all stop now and go our different ways?’ he said.”

Another point seldom made: “People keep saying that Jatuporn is fighting for former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, but in actual fact, this red-shirt leader is no stranger to the fight for democracy. He started fighting for the principle from the uprising against the military in May 1992. Yet, as he says, he has nothing more than a Toyota Fortuner to show for his decades in the political field.”

Update 3: Wassana Nanuam explains the change of the location of the cabinet meeting on Monday. She reports in the Bangkok Post (31 March 2010) that “The cabinet also opted to relocate the cabinet’s meeting venue yesterday from the prayer room at the 11th Infantry Regiment to the Public Health Ministry.  A CAPO source said army chief Anupong Paojinda ordered the relocation late on Monday night.  The order was made after a number of cabinet members said they did not want to enter the barracks because the government had already been accused of being propped up by the military, the CAPO source said.

It was stated that “another important reason was the criticism of holding a meeting in a prayer room in the presence of a huge Buddha image, which is inappropriate…”. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said “many cabinet members preferred to meet at the Public Health Ministry because they felt it was a more convenient location with several entrances and good services.”  And, the “number of soldiers guarding the venue of the cabinet meeting was reduced from about 5,000 troops to 1,200 to avoid panicking staff at the Public Health Ministry…”.

**

On the first day of the talks, red shirt co-leader Veera Musikapong said: “”Our request is simple and direct. We would like Parliament dissolved to return power to the people, so they can make their decision…”. This, however, is the stumbling point. The government believes that it cannot win an election, so its negotiating point is on “constitutional reform” and hence delaying an election for a further 9 months.

The government side and its supporters and backers are also firmly of the view that elections cannot solve the problems created by the political contestation that has continued for several years. Given the response of the military, palace, royalists and their yellow-shirted supporters to elections in 2005, 2006 and 2007, this position may well be correct for these forces can never accept a government that they cannot control or which they believe is linked to their hated enemy, Thaksin Shinawatra.

On Tuesday, The Nation (30 March 2010) reported that the talks between red shirts and a Democrat Party team led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had “reached an impasse yesterday as both sides failed to find a common stance to end the ongoing stand-off.” In fact, PPT’s taxi driver earlier on Monday had already said that the talks were dead because of the government’s unwillingness to consider a dissolution in the near term (on the news of this, see the Bangkok Post). At the same time, the taxi driver continued to listen to the live broadcast of the second round of talks.

The two sides initially appeared to agree on further talks after Abhisit returned from a trip to Bahrain. The Nation reports, however that the red shirts “suggested the talks be suspended indefinitely as the stances of both sides looks unlikely to change.” There’s no indication why this trip is more critical for Abhisit than the political negotiations with the red shirts.

On Monday evening, Abhisit had demanded that there be no dissolution until “late this year after a referendum on amendments to the Constitution. Abhisit also said the government needed time to pass the budget bill for the next fiscal year. His finance minister later appeared on television news programs opposing any dissolution and arguing  for keeping the economic recovery on track.

All the talk of constitutional reform and a referendum remains somewhat mute as the Bangkok Post reports that the coalition parties have agreed to dissolve parliament by the end of the year after the government amends the constitution but reject a referendum.

There was more spark in the discussions, with Abhisit repeatedly talking over the red shirt leaders and trying to rebut their statements. Red shirt negotiator Jatuporn Promphan stated that the “government and Prime Minister Abhisit had no legitimacy to stay in the power, because the government was set up undemocratically.” He added fuel to this fire by mentioning corruption, double standards and pointing to hypocrisy: “You used to call for the late prime minister Samak Sundaravej to dissolve Parliament when the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance’s for Democracy protested in 2008, so why don’t you apply the same principle today…. Just simply follow your own words, and you’d be a great leader.” A series of other allegations got Abhisit upset – these tend to be the more personalized attacks on him – and relate to violent actions last April during the Songkhran Uprising.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post (30 March 2010) reports on an “historic first when it is held in a prayer room at the 11th Infantry Regiment compound surrounded by 5,000 troops.” The image of a cabinet meeting being held and guarded by 5,000 troops is astounding. It is reported that more than “1,500 [soldiers] have been assigned to undertake foot patrols. Armoured vehicles, personnel carriers and water trucks are also on alert.”

But it gets better. Apparently, the cabinet is to “discuss national affairs before a statue of Phra Phutthachaisirinimitpatima [also called Luang Phor Cherd]. A government spokesman said it was hoped the move would boost morale among MPs disheartened by the continuing political turmoil.” Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban “said it was the first time he would attend a cabinet meeting in the presence of a giant Buddha statue.”

Readers may notice that when the government resorts to ritual and religion, it is termed “historic,” but that when red shirts do the same thing, albeit far more spectacularly, they are rounded on as superstitious Neanderthals. Weak-kneed, middle-class academics wince and cry foul because the pouring of blood is “gruesome” and they consider it some kind of “violence” against people’s state of mind. Perhaps this government ritual is meant to show the difference between black and white magic.

Some of those weak-kneed academics are the core of NGOs. Today they also seem to be the main constituency of these organizations. The Bangkok Post reports that NGOs, academics and senators “have welcomed negotiations between the government and red shirt protest leaders but doubt they will solve any problems.”

The “Network of Non-governmental Organisations yesterday praised representatives of the government and the …UDD … for talking to each other…. The network called for a dissolution of the House in six months, public participation in constitutional amendments, a referendum on any amendment, public participation to work out solutions to social inequality and corruption and an end to unreasonable accusations and threats through the media.”

While Somchai Preechasilpakul of the online education forum Midnight University sounded reasonable when he, “criticised Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for trying to buy time by demanding the constitution be amended before he would dissolve the House,” others lined up to support the government with statements about dissolution not solving problems and needing to be delayed.

Senator Prasarn Marukhapitak saw dissolution as unlikely to “lead to any solution,” Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn “said a dissolution was not the only problem,” Senator Surasak Sri-arun “said red shirt protest leaders were always changing their demands. Initially they battled for constitutional amendments but later turned to demand a dissolution of the lower house.”

The real leaders of the minor coalition parties, none of them actually in parliament, want different things. Newin Chidchob favors constitutional change but no referendum. Banharn Silpa-archa election rules amended. Suwat Liptapanlop wants a dissolution but no constitutional change. There are also differences within the coalition parties on the sections of the constitution to be amended. The Democrat Party has no desire to “change the section regarding the election system from multi-representative to single-seat constituencies.”

It seems that the talks have been used more or less to reduce pressure on the government and to buy time, still hoping (what are seen as) the horrid peasants occupying Bangkok will tire and go home, leaving the government free to continue in office. Such a perspective draws on beliefs about who is born to rule and the perception that most of the red shirts are Thaksin proxies and duped or paid. These attitudes run very deep and have been reinforced – rather than shaken – by recent events and the language of class warfare. The elite understands that they are in a war that their class and allies must win.





Class, fear and propaganda

20 03 2010

PPT has for some time been posting about the way the mainstream media has been pro-government and, in substantial parts, essentially yellow-shirted in its biased reporting. That has now changed. Large parts of the media are now simply acting as the tools of the military-backed and palace-supported government fronted by Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Part of the reason for this is a ratcheting up of the fear of the red shirt rallying that is now felt by the government and its supporters. So fearful have they become, that they have allowed the red shirt agenda to become the agenda. Some of this is made clear in a Bangkok Post (20 March 2010) report that tells of Prime Minister Abhisit’s supposed “offensive to counter ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s daily video-link where he encourages people to join the red shirt rallies.”

Abhisit got together a group of local media and broadcast in Thai for a substantial time yesterday (Friday). On other channels, commentators made exactly the same points that Abhisit made. In other words, this was a concerted media propaganda campaign organized by and for the government.

Abhisit also spoke to Al Jazeera, the BBC and CNN. (PPT has yet to see the latter international interviews/reports, but we sat through the Thai versions). Abhisit was agitated, spoke very rapidly and seemed quite disturbed by the events on the streets and by the developing class warfare discourse. Another campaign is under way attacking the red shirt blood sacrifice.

The Post claims that Abhisit wanted to attack “Thaksin’s repeated messages that prai [phrai], or proletariat, are oppressed by the elite and that Thaksin wanted to fight for the proletariat…”. In a strict sense, the phrai are not the proletariat, and Thaksin and others use the term more to mean the “commoners” who face the aristocrats at the center of the amart. Other outlets were more accurate in simply using the terms “amart” and “phrai.”

Abhisit is reported as saying: “Pol Lt Col Thaksin used to be an extremely rich prime minister. Is he an elite or one of the proletariat? This morning I saw a photograph in Matichon newspaper picturing where demonstrators were lying down…”. He continued to say he saw a “photograph of Pol Col Thaksin and his children overseas. Do these represent the elite and the proletariat?” Abhisit was trying to capture a contrast between Thaksin and his supporters, but it is meaningless to people who see themselves sacrificing something for change (and, in many cases, for Thaksin).

Then Abhisit started to sound like an American Republican by damning “class war,” saying “Thaksin should not speak in a way that could create hatred between the rich and poor. Society would be fine as long as people could do their jobs lawfully and had opportunities and rules that everyone respected. Mr Abhisit warned that attempts to divide society and incite people to topple the system were dangerous.”

That seems to be the point. The red shirts have hit on a deeply felt resentment of power and privilege, and the conservative establishment is spitting mad. Few red shirts or any of their supporters is going to seriously buy into an argument that society “would be fine as long as people could do their jobs.” This is the pampered elite speaking to the people they exploit.

Abhisit “explained” – pleaded and dissembled might be the correct terms here – that Thailand no longer had a proletariat and an elite. He said: “All Thai people are equal in terms of freedom but they are unequal in opportunities and his government is trying and doing more than other governments to solve this inequality.” He claimed that “his government was doing what other governments dared not do.” Most red shirts would just laugh at this or get angry. Only this week Abhisit personally vetoed a proposal for the government to raise the already low rice price by a measly 200 baht a ton. Symbolically that is a telling move.

The Nation (20 March 2010) adds to this story, saying that Abhisit asked: “Is Thaksin an ammart or a phrai? He was prime minister and super-rich.” Does Abhisit really think that red shirt supporters don’t know that Thaksin was rich? We’ll forget the historical examples of wealthy people supporting various people’s struggles, but Abhisit seems to live in a different world.

He demonstrated this when he claimed: “Inequality is normal in any society, but it should not be used to incite hatred in society…”. Well, yes, but the downtrodden don’t want to see inequality justified, and when the premier asks “whether Thaksin had tried to solve the problem of inequality between ammart and phrai while serving as prime minister between 2001 and 2006,” most red shirts would claim that he did more than anyone before him and certainly any leader since. That’s one of the reasons why Thaksin continues to be supported; he was seen as trying to do something.

The media propaganda campaign for the Abhisit government is also shown in the Bangkok Post’s (20 March 2010) report that Saturday’s red shirt 46km caravan around Bangkok will cause traffic chaos as “30,000 protesters” join in. Maybe 30,000 will join the drive around Bangkok, but having been to the rally site at Rajadamnoen again last night, PPT was staggered by how many protesters were there.

PPT walked around a very large area where the protesters are camped out and then up to Pan Fah Bridge and down to the Democracy Monument. Our estimate is 50,000 to 75,000 people were there. We were very surprised for having been limited to local media for the last few days, PPT expected a hugely diminished crowd. Some media reports were of 10,000 protesters left. Looking at the crowd from the apex of the Pan Fah Bridge, it was a huge sea of red. At the same time, many screens have been set up around the area where the rally is going on, and so there are groups numbering from tens to hundreds sitting in front of the screens, some of them a considerable distance from the main rally site. In addition, there were smaller stages, with various groups talking to small crowds. Thousands of other red shirts camped out all over the area, sleeping, eating, singing and shopping.

The latter might seem odd, but the mushrooming of vendors selling everything from Marxist-Leninist literature to mosquito nets to VCDs and shoes and, of course, food (in remarkable regional variety) is something PPT wasn’t expecting. The atmosphere is laid-back – indeed, quite literally as red shirts seem to have purchased deck chairs and now make themselves comfortable for the night time talks. People there seem happy and friendly. Also noticeable was the number of couples with kids arriving for the evening and small groups of workers arriving as they finish their shifts. Groups of red shirts were still arriving at 10.30 p.m. Traffic in the area was light but flowing easily. Back up in the Sukhumvit, the traffic was horrendous, even at 11 p.m. That’s the elite partying on a Friday night.

It is remarkable how inaccurate the reporting from the red shirt rally is. As PPT left the rally, we ran into an outside broadcast van for Thai Television, so we asked the reporter there why the reporting from the rally was like this. She might have felt threatened by the accusation, but said that was what “the bosses” ordered. PPT left it at that.

To finish this post, we point to the The Nation’s (20 March 2010) story where it is stated: “Fearing the urban middle-class Bangkokians would either join the red shirts today or confront them, Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra has advised people to stay at home while the demonstrators march through the capital.” Televison commentators keep telling people to stay at home. Based on experiences of the past few days, they really do fear that the support for the red shirts will be huge. That said, recalling events in 1975 and 1976, marches like this, even if motorized, offer opportunities for opposed forces to attack.