Tis the season of political upheaval in Bangkok and surely doomed to spread across the country rearing its ugly head as it strikes fear into the hearts of the weak and the falang who will no doubt purport the news media desirable headline grabbing stories of gun toting mad Thais going on looting and deliberately anti-social sprees demanding change in their wake. Most will have an opinion whilst completely missing the point of all that is wrong in Thai Politics and if like me you look on from afar, but unlike me, with a sense of disdain or rebuke, then you should go with the flow rather than acquire a sense of terror at the possibility of a ruination of your upcoming vacation.
Political rallies and sit-in protests along with the occasional spat of baton wielding and bewilderment is such commonplace in Thailand that it really isn't worth worrying about. We all should know by now that the yellow shirted party that hangs precariously onto the strings of power will not let go and that a steadily progressive escalation of the currently visible antics of rallying redshirts is a natural evolution that is as terminable as the tide and currently at the helm is King Canute.
Most people find the notion of a mass following for Thaksin Shinawatra in 2010 mystifying. A self made multi-millionaire who got to power through winning over with promises the peoples and with a verified vote took power legitimately and with a strong majority and persistently against massive resistance from the rich, powerful, and industrialised blockades saw through many of his promises that benefited greatly the poor from the third world regions of Issan and Pad Nua. These peoples are also the majority and historically have suffered the smallest voice because of the class system and many have only recently been allowed to vote in general elections. But then the wheel came very suddenly off the Thai Rak Thai Party's governing machine as the real powers that be, the Military, ousted him in 2006 because Thai Rak Thai had rigged the election result. Thaksin had nothing to do with fiddling the vote of course, it was his rural council leaders seeking to ensure their re-selection. A ridiculous claim as in the 2008 local elections I saw for myself my partners mum being given 200baht to vote for the unelected PAD Thai party (People's Alliance for Democracy). She took the money to my amazement because she was one of the opposition independents running for election. She told me she will take money from all of them because she needs money, she doesn't care, and this pretty much sums up the Thai way of doing things - if you have enough money, you buy what you need, if you haven't enough money, you take whatever's on offer.
Thaksin went into power a multi-millionaire, he came out a multi-billionaire. From 2001 to 2006 his only source of income was his ministerial allowance and with this meagre sum he was able to buy Manchester City Football Club, shares on the UK stock market, a couple of tower blocks, one in the prestigious docklands and a few new players for his newfound love of Lancashire. His appeal still was not lost and it was obvious from British news items that Thaksin thought his other newfound friends in the British Government would safeguard his exile in Britain. He was wrong, and he was extradited after a formal request from the Thai Foreign Office. Apparently he hadn't embezzled enough money from the Thai tax payers. On arrival in Thailand he was arrested, imprisoned, and his party was dissolved and outlawed. This was a clever and manipulative man, a businessman, and power seeker and no matter how good the Police investigation was all they could find out was that he entered office with a personal wealth of 210 million baht and came out with 72 billion. He was released and even though his passport had been revoked he was able to run for cover in China. Again he was extradited but now he was a political refugee and was granted asylum in the UK.
With his assets frozen, except for those he forseeingly put in his children's name for a rainy day, he remains a very wealthy man and as long as he is alive he provides hope, and you have to ask yourself why when it is so obvious he was taking bribes when in office?
The reason why is not politics. It is need. The military leaders action in the interest of the nation was swift and within hours tanks rolled down Luk Luang into the courtyard of Government House and pointed their guns at the building demanding that Shinawatra's governing party stand down. They subsequently imposed an interim government of yellow shirts with promises of a new election within 12 months. That election never happened and today the government refuses to step down. This interim government is not to blame for the current economic crisis but the working classes think it is. They do not know that a failure on the part of Britain to take measures before the recession came exacerbated the global economies and weakened stock markets and forced commodities up. The pound weakened and the exchange rate collapsed from a whopping 72 baht to 50 to the GBP. Thailand's overseas markets shrank, inland inflation ballooned and wages are suppressed. The only available measures the government has is to cut spending.
Thaksin introduced a benefit system for the lower classes. They can get free medical assistance, free prescriptions, and they can now afford to see a doctor when they need one. If they are unable to work they can claim the 100 baht per working day allowance instead of going cap in hand for the temple leftovers. If they have no land they can be allocated a government plot to grow food for themselves. These unprecedented introductions affect more than 95% of Thailands electorate. And the yellow shirted Peoples Alliance want to cut these services.
Inevitably the working classes see the days of ruling parties and oppression returning and the only way they can show their dissatisfaction is political rallies. But these are poorly educated people. Many cannot sign their name or read and write. This doesn't stop them voting because they can use a thumb print but most of them will put their mark in whichever box they are told and receive 100 baht. Meanwhile Thaksin, a natural born leader who sees himself as a latter-day Robin Hood, is perceived as the peoples champion because only he has ever spoken up for the poor. There have been missing funds, unexplained payments, unaccountable ballot results, and even asassinations directly attributable to Thaksin. The same could be said of Robin Hood but they are both still people's champions. So what is it that redshirts need? The answer is a voice, and the only one who speaks for them is Thaksin.
Thaksin was indicted and sentenced in his absence to two years imprisonment and he is to be applauded for having the courage to return to Bangkok and stand on the platform today to demand that the current government step down. Will they step down? Unlikely and that is why the parade of red shirts will go on, and on...
Last time it was the other side who held a sit in at Suvarnabumhi Airport and whinging Aussies, Poms, and Yanks arrived on our screens in Britain to complain that they cannot fly home and have no money for food etc. Do me a favour, me and all my mates were vehement for not booking our hols prior to the demonstration. Who would go on holiday without sufficient funds? I would have been on the next bus back to Pattaya sending sms messages to my employer saying 'oh dear, have a look at the news tonight' via the nearest ATM and a temple to pray the demonstrators hang in there for as long as possible.
Red shirts no longer represent a political party. They are a statement of allegience. It says 'I am one of the working classes and will resist ruling parties'. And that resistence can only be led by Thaksin. Youth can be seen wearing red shirts with the infamous logo of Che Guevara. Thaksin is no revolutionary but they are not allowed to wear the face of their leader. But what Che and Thaksin both give them is hope. The yellowshirts claim to be royalists and of the people but is pretty much made up of middle classes who are fervent believers in their political policies. When the two meet it always leads to public disorder bordering on anarchy and is always quashed with the most violent and uncompromising force. Meanwhile the only thing the tourist has to do is keep his distance from rallying crowds and never talk politics. Oh! and never wear a red or yellow shirt either...