Republic vs. the regime

9 12 2020

Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has declared: “Thailand is not and won’t be a republic. That’s impossible…”.

The royalist general, responsible for managing the military-monarchy regime, crowed that his “government will do everything in its power to thwart any such system of government in Thailand.”

He was responding to the Free Youth group’s call for discussions about a republic.

As Free Youth has said that “a republic is a state in which the masses are the boss,” Boss Prayuth and Boss Vajiralongkorn are clearly targeted with a radical call for democracy.

Referring to Thomas Paine and calling for equality, Free Youth emphasised “the decentralisation of power, with rulers coming from free and fair elections — not determined by bloodlines” or rigged elections.

The group emphasized that such a radical democracy required “the people rising up to dismantle all the shackles…”.

The Restart Thailand campaign builds on these ideas:

This is a new movement where nothing will be the same. Awareness of the oppressed working class will be awakened, whether you are students, office workers, non-uniformed staff, farmers or civil servants. We are all oppressed workers.

…there will be no leaders, no guards, no compromises or negotiations….

Fearful of what for Thailand amounts to radicalism, Gen Prayuth ordered the regime’s “legal team” to decide if such a call is “against the law.” He’s thinking of sedition and the constitution:

Section 49: No person shall exercise the rights or liberties to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.

Any person who has knowledge of an act under paragraph one shall have the right to petition to the Attorney-General to request the Constitutional Court for ordering the cessation of such act.

Meanwhile, the charges against the regime’s opponents continue to pile up.





Screw the workers or the junta is screwed

24 01 2018

Organized labor in Thailand is struggling to stay organized. For decades business and the state have worked together to ban and then repress organized workers. Labor laws are flouted, employers have officials in their pockets and on their payroll, and leaders of workers at the factory level are harassed and threatened.

Wage setting in Thailand, which revolves around the maintenance of what was once a daily national minimum and is now set for provincial zones is essentially a bipartite process as workers and state decide on what the minions in factories, shops, offices, malls, hotels, boats, fields and so on will be paid. It was only about a week ago that this committee set the new minimum wage.

The decision set seven wage rates from 1 April – 308 baht, 310 baht, 315 baht, 318 baht, 320 baht, 325 baht and 330 baht. The average minimum wage was about 316 baht with rises ranging from 2% to 7% above current levels. For workers in the provinces who will now be getting 308 baht a day, that’s a rise of thus see a wage rise of 8 baht since 2012 or about 0.4% a year or 1.3 baht per day. At the highest rate, it is 1.7% a year or 5 baht a day.  A bus ride on a regular non-a/c bus in Bangkok is 8 baht.

Calculated as a yearly rise, the highest rate for someone working every single day of the year on this new minimum wage would earn enough to buy 7.6% of one of General Prawit Wongsuwan’s watches (at the estimated average cost).

Those pitiable rises were due to be approved by the junta’s cabinet yesterday, with the “Ministry of Labour …[to] also propose an exemption from the wage stipulations for the provinces in the government’s flagship Eastern Economic Corridor development project…”. How that makes sense is beyond us. We would have thought that you would want your workers in your flagship establishments being your most productive and best paid. But this is a military junta making decisions….

Unfortunately, even these small wage increases (which many firms ignore anyway) are just too much for Thailand fattened business class. The Nation reports that the bosses are rebelling, demanding that the junta “go back to the drawing board on the recently announced rises in minimum daily wages [saying] that its members say do not reflect the different economic conditions across the country.” Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the The Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, says 92% of business owners “in all provinces agreed that the rises announced for 2018 are higher than the rates that had been proposed by the provincial wage committees. This meant that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and farmers could be hit hard by the higher wages, which they say are not adequately based on economic conditions in each area of the country…”.

Business owners are used to having cheap labor. That’s been one of the state’s main roles over decades of economic development. That’s why inequality remains at Latin American and African levels. That’s why, in 2016, the top 1% in Thailand controlled 58% of all wealth and why the top 10% gobbled up 80% of all wealth in the country.

Greed is one thing but we think the political threat from organized business is also clear. The message is: help us on blood-sucking wages and we will continue to support The Dictator and his men. If the junta fails, its political future is dimmer still.





Updated: Thailand’s protesters don’t want democracy

29 01 2014

There have been some pretty horrid defenses of the anti-democrats by some journalists and bloggers in recent days. One of the features of these pieces has been the almost complete absence of factual information and the reliance on a few informants from the anti-democracy camp.

Perhaps the worst of this lot was the long Newsweek piece by Hugh Gallagher, called “What I saw at the Revolution.” Perhaps it should have been “What I saw at the Counter-Revolution.” This scribbler essentially had one source – a woman who happened to live in this guy’s condominium.

Saowaluk, 30-something TV producer, was one of them. She met me that morning in my building’s lobby. Dressed in jeans, black T-shirt and running sneakers, she tucked her smartphone into a designer handbag, brushed her long black hair aside, and led me out into the protests.

Smartphone, designer bag, etc. This is upwardly mobile Thai-Chinese middle class Bangkok.

Many people pouring into the streets of Bangkok today received their diploma directly from their king. The PDRC movement is filled with such educated professionals, whom detractors have spun toward the more derogatory label of “elite.”

Saying the “revolution” was more than the middle class and elite being pissed that they thought their privilege was going down the drain, the author then introduces “famous people” at the protest. He makes PPT’s case: this is a highly protectionist elite and their hangers-on protecting a system that has suited them and kept the rest down.

Equally hopeless was a piece at The Guardian by Dave Sherman. We were initially surprised that a respected newspaper like this would publish such weak journalism, but then we realized that this is one of those stories that anyone can publish, kind of like a long comment at a blog.

Then we found out that this Dave is Bangkok Dave. He hasn’t posted anything at his blog for ages, but he came out for The Guardian. We won’t say too much about the article, but let’s contextualize it. This is how Dave describes himself:

I’m not a journalist…. I am not a neutral observer. I’m against the red shirts – their ideology; their goals (not their stated goals, but the actual ones); their methods, particularly the calculated use of violence; their hypocrisy and sense of entitlement; their lack of compassion and self-awareness. But most of all, I’m against their political master: Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire former premier turned fugitive who’s organized the red shirt movement, funded its activities and infused it with his sociopathic personality and political ethos.

So Dave is a commentator who hates red shirts. Should we then listen to him when he supports the anti-democrats? Well, yes, if he made any sense.

Does he make sense? Try this, his: “Myth 1: The protesters are mainly ‘Bangkok elites’.” What is it then?:

In reality, while the protests indeed have their centre in Bangkok, most protesters are fairly diverse, and include the city’s middle and working classes, as well as students and people of all walks of life from Thailand’s south. Crucially, the majority of the Bangkok-born working class do not support the government.

“Fairly diverse”? Everyone says the Bangkok middle class is there (see above), so nothing new there. But the working class of Bangkok? The first thing to notice is that Dave has no evidence for this claim, and PPT certainly hasn’t seen this class at the rallies. Of course, the leadership of tiny state enterprise unions have supported the anti-democrats, going back to 2005, mainly through the influence of Somsak Kosaisuk.

But this is a “labor aristocracy.” It is a tiny fraction of the Bangkok-based working class that was so emphatic in its support for the red shirts and which repeatedly votes for pro-Thaksin parties. Evidence is not one of Dave’s strong points.

Update: Oops, like Dave, we forgot our punchline. The headline of this story is a contradiction of Dave’s. We won’t argue for our conception because he doesn’t either. But, hey, we have hundreds of posts to support us.





Korn, wages and politics

14 08 2010

Eric Ellis has an interesting piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on what he sees as Finance Minister, Korn Chatikavanij’s attempt to fix the “red-yellow divide that bedevils Thailand.” Korn’s “big idea” says Ellis is a “simple one.” Korn wants to raise workers’ salaries. Ellis cites Korn: ”What’s the cost to the country to significantly increase this minimum wage?”

It is worth readin the whole piece, but PPT summarizes a little here as a taster: “In Bangkok, this is a shocking notion…. Those people most likely to oppose Korn’s suggestion are his own supporters. Korn is a senior figure in Thailand’s oldest political party, the Democrat [Party]…, whose heartland is Bangkok’s conservative business elite. Many of their number are rich and yellow-inclined, regarding their privilege as a birthright endorsed by the semi-divine monarchy.”

Ellis says “Korn rejects a fashionable notion that Thailand is plagued by poverty and income disparity.” Sounding a little like a French royal might have before the Revolution, Korn says that Thais are okay: “They have mobile phones, they have televisions, and have more than enough to eat. This is not the poorest country in Asia, and the living conditions are better than in other countries.”

He seems to think the problem is “psychological” in that “people have moved from farms to factories. The rural poor have become the urban poor and in my opinion being urban poor is much worse, the living conditions are worse and your relative wealth is worse, cost of living – exposed to the attractions of wealth…”. Korn seems to think that a quick boost in the minimum wage – paid only by some firms anyway – might solve this psychological and aspiration and envy problem. Like Thaksin Shinawatra before him, though, Korn thinks businesses would benefit if workers had more to spend.

In the Thai press he said something about a big rise and then holding the wage fixed for 5 years. That seems like little more than a political stunt or an election ploy.

Ellis observes that “Korn’s thinking betrays … his own government’s immediate dilemma [of]… how to confront unexpected political and economic challenges as working-class aspirations and education rise.”





Fighting the working class

26 06 2010

Patrick Winn in the Global Post has a useful take on recent events in Thailand. He notes that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government is “now struggling — and failing — to find common ground with a mobilized, largely working-class faction that detests them.”

That government has worked hard to argue that there has been no class basis to recent political events, not least because the huge demonstration of working class support for the red shirt protesters scared the pants off the capitalist and middle class supporters of the government. Those classes are more used to ordering the working class about and exploiting their labor than facing rebellion.

The organization of the working class has been prevented, smashed and demeaned by a string of governments for decades. Whenever the working class shows any militancy, the ruling class moves quickly to squash it, and they have done it again in 2010.

Journalist Winn has been talking with Peter Warr, an economics professor at the Australian National University. Warr is a pretty much straight up and down neoclassical economist with an interest in poverty reduction. He’s done considerable work for the World Bank on Thailand, including studies of incomes and poverty. A recent publication by Warr on poverty in Asia can be downloaded here.

Winn says that Warr believes the Thai government and its opponents have “overlooked” the impact of the “U.S.-born global economic crisis has played … in prodding disaffected Thais to join anti-government demonstrations…”.

Warr argues that the Thai economy is remarkably reliant on exports. Most of these are now manufactured goods, and “in recent years these have been hit “by dwindling foreign demand.” This has resulted in “waves of layoffs and slashed hours” for the country’s workers. He believes that it is the workers in export-oriented industries who are mostly “unskilled and semi-skilled people from the north and northeast,” who are the “very people who are the support base for the ‘Red Shirts’.”

Government data confirms this general assessment, with economists showing that there has been a sharp deterioration for workers and a shift of income to capital. All of the productivity gains made by workers have essentially gone to business owners through very high rates of profit. The share of income now accruing to workers is at an unprecedented low rate.

The red shirt rhetoric was attractive to the workers who see, feel and know that they are worse off. The call to join a fight against the “governing ‘aristocrats’ who’ve long shafted ‘the commoners’,” was eagerly taken up.

Warr sees the protests as “… attractive to those wounded by the economy and seeking a vehicle for their frustration…”. Under the Abhisit government, Warr asserts, “they’ve lost out. And they’re right…. They don’t know why. But it’s easy to portray their deteriorating circumstances as being caused by the government.”

Winn observes that: “Many among the Red Shirts faithful claim grievances that run deeper than electoral or economic cycles. They insist they’re shut out of a hierarchy of strings and connections that keeps nearly 70 percent of Thailand’s assets in the hands of its wealthiest 20 percent.” His article cites several examples of grim tales from the laid-off in a faltering export and consumer economy.

In fact, inequality is worse than this, for wealth, income, assets and property are all highly skewed to the richest.

Economist Warr is no fan of Thaksin and tends to view him as a populist who came to power in an expanding economy – albeit slower than before the economic crisis of 1997-98 – and discounts the political aspects of Thaksin’s economic policies targeting the poor.

Poor rich boy and finance minister, Korn Chatikavanij, makes the now well-rehearsed Democrat Party lament that claims the red shirts “have distorted economic facts to rile up followers.” He says the current regime has advanced “Thailand’s largest-ever stimulus package, a $44-billion bundle of infrastructure and social welfare projects aimed in large part at Thailand’s poor.” He claims that the government “hasn’t received enough credit…”. In the northeast, the Democrat Party has “very little popularity, very little understanding…”.

Like most in his party, born of privilege and wealth, Korn finds it impossible to conceive that Thaksin somehow found and released a political groundswell of support that relies more on political opportunity than on money spent. There’s an ideological block, because yellow shirts like Korn believe that Thaksin’s support is all bought.

While Korn might have been educated in the elite schools and universities of the U.K., it is unlikely that he understands the full historical and contemporary significance of the comparison he makes to relatively poorer Scotland and voting patterns in the U.K.

Arguments by the government that portray the red shirt uprising as anything but a class struggle are seriously misguided. But that’s what one would expect of the government of those who benefit most from the current ownership of the country. Despite everything, in relative terms, they are doing better than ever. The rich exploiters can continue while their government, backed by the military, remains in power. All they have to do is to continue to come up with ways to keep it in office.





Updated: Ji Ungpakorn on the end of red shirt protests

11 05 2010

As usual, because his posts are blocked by the government censors in Thailand, PPT re-posts this comment by Ji Ungpakorn. On the end of the protest, also see this report. Update: PPT also recommends an article in the New York Times that reveals some of the debates, splits and pressures on the red shirt side.

Red Shirt Protests to end soon. What has been achieved?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Red Shirt protests in Bangkok, which started in mid-March are about to be wound up. The leaders have accepted a compromise with the military-backed Abhisit government. Elections will not be held immediately, but on 14th November. Earlier Abihist had indicated an election in February 2011 at the earliest.

It is unclear whether the blanket censorship will be lifted. One clear demand that the Red Shirt leaders are expecting is that the Red Shirt TV channel (People Channel TV) will be allowed back on air. It is unclear whether websites like Prachatai will be unblocked. Another demand is that the law be applied equally to all. The Government claims that tomorrow the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister will “surrender” to the police regarding charges of murdering citizens back on 10th April. But it is unclear whether any real charges will be filed against them.

Nothing has been said about the political prisoners, both those in jail for lese majeste and those in jail for blocking roads during the recent protest.

What have the Red Shirts achieved?

1. The Red Shirts have shown that they are a genuine mass movement for Democracy made up of ordinary working people in rural and urban areas. They have shown that the crisis is about CLASS. They have shown that the Red Shirts are a grass roots movement which will not disappear easily.

2. The Red Shirts have exposed the real and bloody nature of the military-backed Government which can only stay in power through repression and blanket censorship.

3. The struggle of the Red Shirts has turned ordinary people into leaders; into internet and media experts who can get around censorship in order to spread their message. In the process of struggle they have thrown off the myths and mind fetters about the Monarchy. As a result, the Monarchy appears to be in terminal crisis. If this is really so, it will seriously weaken the power of the army.

4. They have stood up to the army and shown that it is not a simple matter to just shoot down pro-democracy demonstrators. In the process they have caused splits in the police force and lower ranks of the army.

5. They have forced the Government to speed up elections.

But this is a compromise. It is not the end of the shady dictatorship of the army and the elites which stands behind the present Government. It will disappoint many.

However, it is difficult to see how the Red Shirts could have fought on at this present stage without new strategies.

The important question is how they will organise and fight in the future. If the Red Shirts are to strengthen themselves they have to organise among the trade unions in order to win strike action. They have to make serious efforts to build networks among army recruits and they have to develop a clear political platform for Puea Thai Party in order to win the hearts and minds of ordinary workers and farmers. They should advocate a Welfare State, improved benefits for workers, a real peace process for the South, genuine reform of the media and the justice system. They must stand against censorship and repressive laws. No one can just leave these matters in the hands of the leadership. Red Shirt local groups need to elect representatives who can be part of a progressive grass roots leadership in order to lead the struggle forward. Women should make up a significant proportion of this leadership.

Only these things would make a difference between a shoddy compromise and a real step forward to Freedom, Democracy and Social Justice.





The hospital crisis and government PR successes

4 05 2010

The Chulalongkorn Hospital events of recent days have been an unmitigated public relations disaster for the red shirts and a triumph for the government. PPT recommends Thongchai Winichakul’s analysis of the events and their meanings at New Mandala.

We also note the manner in which the events were hyped by the media – look at the initial, calm report in the Bangkok Post. That soon became a “storming” of a hospital by seemingly crazed red shirts. This results in remarkably positive press for the Abhisit Vejjajiva government. PPT also notes the support that medical professionals have provided to PAD and its associated no color/multi-color groups.

In addition to this event, the government has had considerable success in recent days. Its major PR coup was in having all responsibility removed from the state for its role on 10 April. This was a remarkable bit of PR leg work. Being able to confuse the international media and governments by the claim that “terrorists” were involved has seemingly negated all state responsibilites for 25 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Whether there were such people involved should not prevent an independent investigation and should not result in the Abhisit government escaping condemnation for its role in provoking the clash and for the deaths and injuries that resulted. To get “off” has been a remarkable PR victory.

Its second remarkable success has been in isolating the red shirts at Rajaproasong. The huge build-up of security forces around the site and the red shirts response of digging in has effectively cut the red shirts off from their Bangkok support base. One of the major successes for the red shirts was in showing that it had huge support from the working class in the service and manufacturing sector in and around Bangkok. Confining the red shirts eliminates that demonstration of support and allows the government to continue with claims about “terror” and “terrorists.”

While the media and PR battle will continue over the Abhisit “road map,” the government’s recent successes have been significant.





With 3 updates: A brief lull and a renewed threat

22 04 2010

After what many assumed – including PPT – was a propaganda blitz that was preparing the way for another push to clear the red shirt demonstrators, this time from the Rajaprasong area, there has been a 24 hour lull. This saw much talk of negotiation, and several media outlets reported all sides reaching out for talks. However, the Bangkok Post (22 April 2010) reports that the ever-threatening Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the spokesman for the Centre for the Resolutions of Emergency Situations, “has warned red-shirt protesters camped in the Ratchaprasong area that troops are waiting for an appropriate time to take back the area.”

Sansern said: “Your time is running out. Please leave the area and report to the authorities…. This is not a threat. This is real…”. He added that”[a]uthorities will take decisive action against protesters when they disperse the mob…”.

Some pundits are suggesting Friday or Saturday evening as the likely time for government action. This feels a little like the standoff that briefly developed when troops surrounded the remaining red shirt demonstrators at the end of the Songkhran Uprising in 2009, which eventually led to red shirts, feeling that they were going to be crushed, accepted government offers to retire from the rally. The best scenario is that the government/military is hoping for a similar outcome this time. The worst scenario could be troops again clashing violently with determined red shirts.

Update 1: The government is making the most of anti-red shirt sentiment and is stoking it. Colonel Sansern said: “To take people in Bangkok hostage is not right…”. AP reports that “[a]nger among Bangkok residents is mounting against the Red Shirt protesters…. The weeks of protests have forced hotels and offices to close and are threatening the livelihoods of those who work in the “occupation zone.” This is only partly correct. There is no doubt that the occupation of Rajaprasong is hitting businesses in the area hard. Indeed, the government is thinking of compensating them. However, as has been remarked many times, the red shirts also have enormous support from Bangkok’s working and service classes.

And when AP says that there is a “loose coalition opposed to the Red Shirts has started taking to the streets and clashed with the protesters on Wednesday, tossing stones, bottles and shouting, ‘Give back our city’ and ‘Hillbillies, get out’,” they seem to be misunderstanding that they are attacking their workers, janitors, taxi drivers, maids, masseuses, wait staff, and so on. Or maybe they do understand and they see this as a class war.

Update 2: See Simon Roughneen’s updated photos including on the rally at Silom. Scroll down through his story and pictures.

Update 3: The Nation reports that the “Civil Court Thursday evening issued an injunction against the use of force to break up the red-shirt rally at Rajprasong Intersection. But the court noted that the demonstration affected the public so the government could use internationally-accepted measures to deal with the protesters form lighter to harsher measures.” PPT is not sure what this means, for the government always claims to be using “international standards.”





Updated: Caravan fallout

22 03 2010

Update: “Reconciliation” seemed to last only a few minutes. By the evening of Monday, the main state media outlets were attacking the red shirts quite vigorously. Thai Television included a long “news analysis” that would have been at home on ASTV. Indeed, it included several unattributed references to the ASTV’s publications attacking the red shirts.

*

It does seem that the enormous red shirt caravan and the support it achieved in Bangkok has had a considerable impact. It has been baffling and challenging to pro-government groups for all kinds of reasons – see the excellent Chang Noi column.

Immediately after the caravan, there were reports of bombing, and this could have been a sign of a darker force at work to undermine the red shirt leaderships’ determination to be non-violent. These threats could have come from a range of disgruntled or determined or wildly worried sources. There were some red shirt affiliates who wanted a more aggressive approach. It could have come from disgruntled military and intelligence types who have long employed these kinds of unsettling tactics. It could have been a government strategy. What seems clear at the moment is that there has been a stepping back from this strategy. It could easily return.

The military-backed government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva seemed determined to get tougher. Abhisit himself went on the offensive, attacking the red shirts as Thaksin Shinawatra-dominated and money dominated. He blanketed television. He was supported by a range of yellow-hued attacks o the red shirts. The determination to denigrate the rallies and caravan as the actions of the paid-off, duped and ignorant was seen amongst Democrat ideologues and was all over the ASTV/Manager and yellow-shirt twitters and blogs. That continues. On the English-language blogs, the determined yellow shirts returned in heavy posting, demeaning and damning the red shirts in tones almost identical with those used to damn rural voters when the People’s Alliance for Democracy wanted them effectively disenfranchised. Letters to the English-language press have been dominated by outrage against the red shirts from supposedly foreign readers.

However, the government and its backers seem to have gradually seen the message of the past days and week as representing a serious challenge. Increasingly, there seems to have been a lot of pressure for Abhisit and his backers to return to “reconciliation.” That term was originally the rhetoric of the 2006 coup leadership and the governments that followed, but the Abhisit government seemed happy enough to abandon it. This pressure began before the caravan on Saturday, but has since increased. Some of the Thai-language press has been gradually more willing to consider a red shirt view (see here and here).

The pressures included the rallying of Peua Thai parliamentarians and leader Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to the red shirt leadership. Initially, some Peua Thai leaders seemed reluctant to be openly associated with the red shirts, but as the movement has achieved successes, that reluctance has melted away. The pressure from parliamentarians for the government to seek a way out was also significant. So too was the pressure from coalition partners and the usually government-supporting groups.

Initially, Abhisit seemed intent on putting out “let’s talk” signals, but maintained conditions that the red shirt rally leadership rejected. The Nation (21 March 2010) reported that Abhisit held out the possibility of a general election this year. That was significant for the coalition still feels that it will lose, meaning that the strategy has long been to avoid an election for as long as possible. This year has problems. For one thing, this government and its supporters want to control the military reshuffle due in October to ensure the “right” people get control for the next few years. That would at least ensure that a pro-Thaksin government would not have much free reign.

Abhisit somewhat foolishly suggested that two of the most anti-red shirt Democrats be negotiators – propaganda chief Sathit Wongnongtoey and Korbsak Sabhavasu. Abhisit seems to trust these men, but they have low ratings amongst red shirts. Abhisit soft-pedaled, saying these guys wanted to negotiate the terms of negotiation with the red shirts rather than to negotiate ways out of the “crisis.”

The red-shirt leaders insisted they would only talk directly to Abhisit about any truce prospects.” They added that dissolving parliament was the main demand.

Abhisit continued to reject this in a familiar statement that there would be a House dissolution only when the country is ready for a free and fair election so that the public will benefit from such a move.” He added: “we have to cut a deal that we would do it [house dissolution] for the public interest with no Thaksin issues involved…. This is seen by many red shirts as a return to a position of 2008, where after winning the 2007 election, the then People’s Power government was prevented from dealing with any constitutional or other issues that the PAD and its backers considered “Thaksin-related.” Abhisit is agenda-setting for a feared “pro-Thaksin” government.

Coalition partners Puea Pandin and Chart Thai Pattana were far more supportive of talks with the protesters. The Nation reported that “Watchara Kannikar of the Chart Thai Pattana Party said both the government and protesters should reduce their preconditions so that there could be a deal.

Now a cynical PPT would see much of this as an attempt to regain the political driving seat by a visibly disturbed government. Indeed, Abhisit was forced to call all of the coalition party leaders to his army base “government house” for an all channels live broadcast to redisplay coalition unity. It looked like a shaky strategy and ended remarkably abruptly. The point of the media event was to announce some stepping back. The Nation (22 March 2010 – reported that The coalition parties agreed negotiations should begin today with mediation by the National Human Rights Commission or senators…”. The meeting appointed “Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat [and] … Korbsak Sabhavasu as negotiators [to]… meet with red shirt leaders Dr Weng Tojirakarn and Jaran Ditthapichai today to set the terms of talks.” The red shirts quickly rejected Chinnaworn and opened the possibility of dealing direct with the smaller coalition parties.

Abhisit was also forced to agree that he might have to lead negotiations with the red shirt leaders. But positions remain quite a way apart. The red shirts know that the government could return to a strategy of waiting out the red shirt protest or worse.

Interestingly, the impact of the red shirt caravan has been sinking in for government supporters. The Nation has a Page 1 comment alters its political language to talk again of “reconciliation.” In a classic piece of Nation doublespeak, it is stated that politicians are the problem: “We can’t let those with political stakes exert a grip on our hearts and souls for their own interests. It’s as simple as that.” PPT observes that The Nation has been heavily involved in a strident campaign of political hate for several years so this is the equivalent of a racist calling for inter-racial harmony. The born-again reconciliationist as the Nation calls for a middle path: “An independent person must be able to loath Abhisit but love those who adore him at the same time. An independent person must be able to scrutinise Thaksin and understand why others think highly of the man.” The editorialist seems to think the way out may be in a slimy political deal.

Maybe it will be a slimy compromise in the end. Cynically, if the establishment already controls the judiciary and many of the so-called independent bodies, can maintain the 2007 Constitution, controls the military, has the senate in its pocket, and can set an agenda in advance for a pro-red shirt government, then as that government comes to office it is totally hamstrung. And then there is the threat of PAD or worse. More cynically, a darker outcome of destabilization and military intervention is possible. A darker 1976-like right-wing crackdown on opposition may have faded for the moment, but not the forces itching to crack heads.

A few things are clear: the red shirts and their innovative political tactics are something that might scared the blue bloods out of the morning latte and croissant with imported preserves and served by the red shirt maid (“Will she now be emboldened enough to murder me and loot the house?”) but they have been a raging success amongst those millions who understand double standards, inequality and the power of the amart. These things are sort of new and sort of old. Who would have thought that in a supposedly post-industrial world, a movement of peasants and workers would rise? Scary enough to get an elite deal perhaps? But also scary enough to prompt the darker forces also.





The red shirt caravan

21 03 2010

PPT went out to watch the red shirt caravan encircle Bangkok yesterday (Saturday). We have already posted on various aspects of the event, so in this post, we just provide our impressions.

In setting out to watch the caravan, PPT first followed it on television, where a couple of stations had sporadic reports and then TNN began to provide increasing coverage around 11 a.m. The coverage showed a huge convoy, with crowds along the route welcoming it.

At that time, PPT decided to get to the Soi 71 intersection of Sukhumvit Road, where the caravan was due to pass and then turn onto Rama IV to travel past Klong Toei. PPT arrived just not long before the first caravan vehicles did. From about 1:35 p.m., led by a lone motorcycle carrying a large national flag, the convoy began to pass. With police and red shirt traffic controllers stopping the rally from time to time to allow traffic to pass along Sukhumvit, PPT stayed until about 5:45 p.m. Apart from those short traffic breaks, the caravan kept pouring past. When PPT left, they were still coming, and a quick look up Soi 71 showed no end to it.

The media has reported that the caravan was anywhere between 10 and 25 kilometers long and included 25,000 to 65,000 people. PPT thinks it was much bigger. But how do we know for sure. All we can say is that for just over 4 hours, tens of thousands of people in cars (almost all Bangkok registered), pick-ups, tuk-tuks, high-end bicycles, trucks, taxis, and thousands upon thousands of motorcycles paraded past us in a jubilant mood. On the street around us, and as far as we could see up Soi 71, down to Rama IV and along that road, there were crowds of people seeking every vantage point to wave and cheer.

When normal traffic was squirted through, almost every driver of pick-ups, trucks and buses waved to the crowd and received cheers in response. One such instance worthy of mention involved a no. 40 bus (hope we got the number right) that came past had the driver wearing a red headband and the conductor waving a heart-shaped clapper out the window.

Like a mammoth temple fair procession, the caravaneers smiled, laughed, shouted, waved and danced as they went past. The people near PPT welcomed them in a similarly joyous mood. Smiles and laughing everywhere. A more good-natured event you could not find and that pretty much matches the atmosphere at rally at Rajadamnoen when PPT has been down there.

The people around PPT, often in family groups, were mainly local workers, from hotels, restaurants, construction sites, hawkers, motorcycle taxi riders, and the odd white-collar worker. The class-based solidarity of the working class and related groups in this event was unambiguous.

The caravan and the crowds welcoming them were not, in PPT’s opinion, a match for those at the Rajadamnoen rally site. This huge group of caravaneers and their supporters seemed younger. Especially the motorcyclists seemed mostly to be in their 20s and 30s, indicating that the Saturday event had tapped into a group that wasn’t always able to be at the main rally site. Some of the motorcycles bore families; the record number on one small bike was mum, dad, and 3 kids.

PPT thinks that the vast majority of participants on motorcycles probably live and work in and near Bangkok. We have no real evidence, but the motorcycles were almost all Bangkok registered. Also, when signs were waved some of them identified areas where the groups were from, and these included housing estates in Bangkok’s outer suburbs.

Many women were also noticed. One kingcab pick-up stopped for a rest right in front of PPT loaded with women and while “resting” they sang and danced to a tune being beaten out from a broken down pick-up (also mostly women) who decided to just keep going with their chants and cheers while immobilized. One Muslim woman was spectacular in red, with a sparkling red head scarf.

Marching and rallying in Bangkok usually involves symbols of nation and monarch. In this case, while national flags were there in big numbers (red in the flag for the blood of those who have sacrificed for the country), symbols of the monarchy were few and far between. PPT counted 7 photos of the king, all exactly the same and taped to windows of pick-ups. Photos of Thaksin Shinawatra were more common, but not ubiquitous. When a group handed out pro-Thaksin newspapers, some were held up to wave a picture of Thaksin while others were used to sit on when people needed a break. People TV also handed out CDs for people to take home and watch.

There were said to be 11 groups in the whole caravan. It was difficult to distinguish them, but when Nattawut Saikua’s truck arrived, there was a huge group of other vehicles clustered around it. As the truck turned onto Sukhumvit, Nattawut called for a cheer and an enormous “chaiyo” went up. He got the biggest and loudest reception that PPT heard. By that stage, about 6 hours after the parade began in very hot weather, he was also sounding pretty hoarse.

The most noticeable thing for PPT was the exuberant solidarity. All those near us were in a festive mood, with emotions running high, not in any negative way, but in a joyous way. This was, for many, an opportunity to be heard again following the rejection of their votes in previous years.

PPT has never seen anything like this event anywhere. It was huge. It will be seen as historic. Despite the heat and traffic fumes, it was a wonderful event to be a part of.

Those who hate and fear the red shirts will not agree with this assessment. Where there was joy and exuberance, they’ll see the hand of Thaksin. Already they are claiming that these people were paid. As PPT has been saying in recent posts, this now makes for dangerous times.

It was reported that “concerned” by new arrivals to the rally – despite only yesterday having it reported that hardly anyone seemed to be coming (see here – http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/politics/34731/mass-replacement-drive-falters). Can the government respond to a huge and peaceful protest in any meaningful way or do they get tougher and darker?