Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bangkok Red Shirt Protest UPDATE

Because I have received many emails about the current political situation in Bangkok, I thought I would pen a quick blog telling you my thoughts.

I just spent the last five days in Bangkok April 6-12.  During this time, the anti-government red shirt protesters stormed the Parliament, lost control of and then regained control of their supporting television station, caused a lot of tourists and Bangkokians to be inconvenienced by closed shopping malls and the shut down of public transportation stations, but also were involved in a violent push back by the government on Saturday night when 21 people were killed and 80 people injured.  

The red shirts, composed mostly of poor Thais from the rural areas of Northern Thailand, are protesting the control of the current government supported by the "yellow shirts", often described as being the Bangkok "elite".  In 2006, the "yellow shirts" staged protests leading to a non-violent takeover of the government by the military while then Prime Minister Thaksin was overseas on a trip to New York.  After a year of military rule, the yellow shirts were surprised when Thaksin's  supporters regained power in Parliament after nationwide elections.  In 2008, Parliament decreed that the 2006 elections were wrought with fraud and appointed the current, yellow shirt supported government.  Since that time, the Parliament has found Thaksin guilty of major corruption and seized billions of dollars in his and his family's assets.  Now, I don't pretend to know everything yet about the Thai government, but if one believes in conspiracy theories, the theory that the government (or is it the military?)  is manipulating things (i.e. installing a government, calling elections fraudulent because they do not produce the desired outcome, finding the PM guilty of corruption), all would warrant further investigation.  Personally, I don't believe it.  Thaksin is a crook who pays for votes and embezzled billions of baht while prime minister.  Period.  End of story!  Most people agree that he is bankrolling the current protests to the tune of 1,000 baht per day per person.  Now, what does that mean?  Well, I am in the uppermost reaches of northern Thailand right now.  My friend's family owns a nice Thai restaurant and her staff, all smart, friendly and skilled, make 3,000 baht per month.  They work hard and they are happy with the work and the pay.  They think this is good money.  Thaksin, while on the lam, is paying unskilled farm workers 10 times this just to have them agree to be trucked down to Bangkok, fed small plastic baggies of rice and pork and stir up the situation on his behalf.

Now, I understand that the right to peaceful protests is an important part of the democratic process.  But most of these people have little idea what the protests are all about.  They are blinded by hero worship, food and cash and support Thaksin and the red shirt cause blindly and without comprehension.  

Most of the activity has been extremely isolated.  I actually went in search of some action and only on one day (Saturday before the violence erupted) was I even able to locate anything and that was merely about 200 red shirts all standing around listening to one of the leaders speak from the top of a truck while alternating with taped broadcasts of previous speeches while he has a cold towel and a smokebreak.

I don;t blame the government for finally getting frustrated at being badly embarrassed by the red shirts, but there also seems to be apathy among the ranks of the police and soldiers.

Why else would the soldiers leave there tanks behind after retreating from the violence on Saturday?  It just seems so weird and utterly unusual, but maybe they know something that I don't.

Well, time to leave Bangkok on Monday and head up to the northern town of Chiang Rai to celebrate the Thai New Year festival of Songkran.  Thais celebrate this holiday by going off to their villages, spending time with their families and throwing water on each other.

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