Personal History of the Red Shirt Protests in Thailand During May 2010: Episode I, May 15, 2010.
In May 2010 I was living in Thailand and corresponding with friends by email. These emails have been collected and republished in the blog “This and that…” During that time the so-called “Red Shirt” protesters occupied downtown Bangkok. The following are taken from my email correspondence and describe my experiences and thoughts during a critical time in that nation’s history.
Some of you have expressed concern about and interest in the latest flare-up of violence in the long simmering stand-off here in Thailand between the Yellow Shirts, supporters of the existing elected government and the Red Shirts, the opposition. The following is the best I can figure out from the information I have been able to put together here.
But first, I should let you all know that the violence, for the most part, is restricted to the Thai capital city Bangkok. Here in Paradise by the Sea (Jomtien Beach) One Mile Down the Road from the Outskirts of Hell (Pattaya), while I am sure protection is still in use, there is no evidence of military personnel anywhere (except for the soldier returning home that sat next to me on the bus to Rayong). In fact, the only color shirts that I see on the streets here are the multi-colored flowered shirts of the typical beach goer. It appears that the beach resorts of the country are off-limits to military of any kind.
Now back to the action. A few weeks ago, I wrote in response to a similar concern that I expected the government would concede and offer new elections somewhat before the date of the elections currently scheduled and that, BARRING ACTIONS OF EXTREME STUPIDITY on either side, after a brief period of negotiations over issues like amnesty, the confrontation would be resolved. As I predicted, last week the government offered to dissolve parliament and hold new elections in November. The opposition responded positively but with the expected counter-offer regarding amnesty for its leaders and the dissolution of parliament prior to their disbanding of the protest. All well and good.
Among the Red Shirt leaders there was a renegade army general nick-named “Seh Daeng.” I do not know what that nick-name means but he appears to strike terror into the hearts of the government and the more or less loyal general staff. He is reputed to have either organized, led at one time, heard about or imagined (it was never clear which) a feared para-military group called “Red Ronin” after the Japanese legendary ninja warriors.
In fact, for the most part he strutted alone within and just outside the flimsy bamboo barriers separating the protestors from the army giving interviews to the press hinting of secret defense strategies should the government be so fool-hardy as to attack the lightly armed protestors with their overwhelming military force. I thought he was a bit nuts, but he obviously was taken very seriously by the government and the Army and so the day before yesterday he was gunned down by a sniper during one of his daily press interviews and the current round of violence broke out. The injuries and deaths usually occurred when a group of soldiers came upon an isolated protester or two, or when a group of protesters came upon one or a few soldiers in the wrong place at the wrong time and set upon them.
Now because those who have been to Thailand understand that nothing in Thailand is what it appears to be, and because both the government and the military deny responsibility for the attack on Seh Daeng, I will venture my guess as to what actually happened.
The Thai general staff is faced with uncertainty over the loyalty of its troops, most of whom are from the countryside and sympathize with the Red Shirts. Also, with a government led by the Thai version of George Bush without Dick Cheney, that is he looks pretty good on TV but lacks…subtlety, they feared that in any election the Red Shirts would win again. The military in Thailand, although a law onto itself and not subject to King or government, saw that a victory by the Red Shirts and the Red Shirt leanings of the troops could sweep into power the feared Seh Daeng as leader of the military. The loyalist general staff reasoned that in that case hey could find themselves terminated one way or another. So they decided to permanently remove Seh Daeng, and the clueless prime minister went along with it, persuaded by his generals that removal of Seh Daeng was a necessary first step to clearing the area of the rebels.
You may wonder why it was so imperative to clear the area of the Red Shirts encampment now, given the fact that they have occupied that area for two months. As best as I can figure out, the two large Chinese-Thai families that own most of the land occupied by the protestors are fed up and have threatened to support the protestors demand that the government step down and new elections held. The clueless government’s response to the threats was to make the, what now appears to be, a phony peace offer including agreement by the Red Shirts to vacate the area in return for the governments offer to reimburse the two families for the loss of profits they had incurred during the siege. Now mind you the individuals and families on either side also injured by the situation will get nothing. Ha, you may say, at least the workers in the establishments owned by two families would receive some compensation from the governmental hand out of their tax money. But no, in political cynicism worthy of Carl Rove the money is only to be used to compensate the families for lost profits. Oops, there I go again, I promised in a previous email that I would not do this, that I would be “fair and balanced”…, God its hard to stop once you get started. I apologize. Anyway, I believe the argument was that the laid off workers were too lazy to find other work so they do not deserve a share of the tax money to which they also contributed, or maybe they were illegal Burmese… Dammit, I can’t help myself. Let me stop here before I do it again.