Personal History of the Red Shirt Protests in Thailand in May, 2010: Episode II, May 16, 2010
News from the front:
In 1964 during the great Harlem riots in New York City, I was a clerk in the Legal Aid office located at the very heart of the action, on the corner of 125th St. and Lennox Ave. I would spend most of the day standing unmolested outside on the corner below the office, observing the ebb and flow of the battle. I was unmolested because as a white man the police and national guard troops could clearly see I was not one of the insurgents. On the other hand as a white man standing under the legal aid office sign the insurgents knew that I would be one of those working at Riker’s Island to free them from the abandoned football stadium where they would be thrown if and when they were caught up in one of the police and guard sweeps of the areas.
More or less across the street from me, in the same hotel used a few years ago by Fidel Castro and his compatriots to roast chickens on the floor of the hallways during their attendance at a meeting of the UN, there was a reporter holed up in his room writing about the riots. He won a Pulitzer for his reporting. Years later it turned out that he was so frightened for his safety that he would not even look out the window and just made everything up. I got to know him in San Francisco during the height of his fame (he was there to report on the counter-culture) and before his fall from grace. He was an arrogant asshole.
I tell this story because here I sit safely in a condo in Paradise by the Sea, One Mile Down the Road from the Outskirts of Hell (Pattaya) about 100 miles from the action, receiving the same media feeds as everyone else, trying to write a description of events. Nevertheless:
Now that they appear to have disposed of the military leader of the Red Shirts, Seh Daeng (I found out it means something like Red Leader) the military’s general staff appears to have adopted a two-pronged strategy . The first is to terrorize the protesters and keep them off the streets by suppression fire from snipers stationed on the roofs of the high-rises surrounding the area barricaded by the protesters. Most of the injuries of the last day or so are the results of sniper fire. The second is to keep additional protestors from the North and Northwest of Thailand from moving down to Bangkok and reenforcing those already there. The removal of Seh Daeng eliminates the threat to the general staff should the contretemps result in a new election with the likely victory of the Red Shirts. The Sniper and interdiction strategy deals to some extent with the issue of the loyalty of the troops. The snipers can be chosen for their loyalty to the military as well as their skill with a rifle. The interdiction and terror works to reduce the numbers of protestors to a size that can be handled by the more reliable divisions of the military.
This may or may not work, at least in so far as a military end to the conflict. If in fact the protestors are reenforced and hold for another few weeks, then the pressure from the Chinese-Thai business community will force the government to concede and call for new elections ahead of schedule.
The government itself is not in the driver’s seat despite the appearance of the Prime Minister on television calling for even greater pressure on the rebels. It really depends on whether the general staff believes it is in their interest to move quickly and crush the uprising. Their interest is to assure their continued independence and security for the current members of the general staff. Since, absent a coup, an election will occur sooner or later and the Red Shirts stand a better that even chance of wining, they must have ether a detante with the Red Shirts or assurance that they are so utterly crushed that they could not return to power in the foreseeable future. I have heard that the behind the scene negotiations between the government and the rebels that has been ongoing continues, each side foot-dragging until it is clearer what the military intends to do. The general staff is in a position of power in negotiating with both sides. I would be surprised if their choice would be the military crushing of the Red Shirts without confidence that the police will, at the request of the government, eradicate the Red Shirt leadership. Since the police, like the military, is a law onto its own, and generally opposes the military’s political pretensions, I find it hard to conceive a circumstance that would give the general staff adequate comfort. Again barring extreme stupidity I see a military general staff negotiated solution at this time, probably within the next week or so.
The King officially remains neutral and calls for negotiations to bring peace. He probably leans toward the general staff as the interest group most likely to leave the monarchy unmolested.
The Chinese-Thai business class while clearly supporting a quick resolution of the conflict and generally supportive of the government over which they have great influence, are concerned that any response that produces significant bloodshed could cause the conflict to continue indefinitely absent a military coup which they definitely do not want. This group is primarily commercial and not industrial oriented and therefore depend upon Thailand’s good international reputation.
Thaksin, the populist ex-prime-minister whose ouster and subsequent loss of much of his fortune in a political contest waged in the courts who has bankrolled the protest movement appears to have been overtaken by events and escalating costs. He is reputed to be behind the hard-line faction within the protestors opposing any settlement not including the return of his fortune.
And what about the people you might ask? After all wasn’t this all about a conflict supposed to be between the rural poor and the urban middle class? What about their role? What about their interests?
You have got to be kidding….