Who are the Thai anti-government protesters and what do they stand for?

Thousands of crazed middle-class royalists, led by the notorious blood-stained Democrat Party have been demonstrating in an attempt to get rid of the Government and all of former Prime Minister Taksin’s influence in politics. They hope the military will help them do this. They have been occupying government buildings and blocking roads.

These are the people who called for and supported the 2006 military coup. In those days they were “Yellow Shirts” and they rejected repeated election results which gave huge majorities to the Thai Rak Thai Party headed by Taksin Shinawat. They claimed then, and still claim, that the majority of Thais are “too stupid and uneducated” to deserve the right to vote. They want the military or the king to intervene in politics. They defend having appointed senators. In 2008, after the Democrat Party lost yet another democratic election, they occupied the international airports and trashed government buildings until the pro-military courts sacked the elected government and the military installed Abhisit Vejjajiva as Democrat Party Prime Minister. The Red Shirt pro-democracy movement was built as a result of this.

The protesters are also people who supported the bloody crack-down on Red Shirt, pro-democracy protesters in 2010, where ninety people were killed by the army. Today Democrat Party strongman Sutep Tueksuban is calling for the “restoration of an absolute monarchy”. These reactionaries could never win an election. Repeated elections since 2006 have proved this. They lie about being pro-democracy and like to wear “Guy Fawkes” masks, pretending to be like the “Occupy Movement”.

In addition to their undemocratic views, they are also extreme neo-liberals. They constantly talk about “fiscal discipline” and are opposed to government funds being spent on health care and welfare for the poor. They oppose government support for rice farmers and are opposed to upgrading Thailand’s decaying railway infrastructure to a high speed system. Yet they do not oppose massive spending on the military and the royal family.

They lie about being “anti-corruption”. The corruption issue is used to attack Taksin, but they remain quiet about the decades’ old institutional corruption of the military and the gross legal corruption of the monarchy that has meant that king Pumipon is one of the richest men in the world. They also ignore corruption within the Democrat Party.

When journalists warn of possible “violence” in Bangkok, they should try and remember a few facts: It was the army and the Democrat Party who deliberately shot down pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010. But journalists still like to talk nonsense about “clashes” between the army and red shirts, when it was more like a duck-shooting party for the military.

The military?

Despite the images of chaos in Bangkok, the anti-government protesters are in a weak position. They have never been able to do anything without the army and they have no democratic legitimacy. It is questionable whether the army is willing to overthrow the Yingluk government right now. A deal between Taksin and the military was struck in 2011. There are grey areas not covered by the deal and the army cannot control what the “yellows” say and do. The question is what more would the military gain from a coup? They already have an agreement that they will not be prosecuted for staging coups or gross human rights abuses. The generals are still in control of the army and their lucrative cash-cows like the media and state enterprises. What excuse would they give for a coup and how would they manage to govern in the face of large scale popular opposition to such a coup? The courts had a chance to overthrow the government by dissolving the ruling party. But they merely ruled that it was “unconstitutional” for parliament to amend the military constitution to ensure that all senators are elected. The king is weak and cowardly and only does what he is told to do by his military advisors. So it will prove difficult for the government to be overthrown. Yet politics can be full of surprises. We shall have to see what happens.

The Yingluk government

Yingluck Shinawat’s Pua Thai Party government brought this latest crisis on itself by trying to push through a blanket amnesty bill which would have let all military and Democrat Party killers off the hook. It would also have allowed Taksin to return. The amnesty for Taksin enraged the Yellow Shirts, but it was also a slap in the face for the Red Shirts who had fought the dictatorship and died. The amnesty also did not cover political prisoners in jail under lèse majesté. The government cannot be trusted not to enter into some grubby deal with its elite opponents. The tragedy is that progressive forces of the Left are too weak to win leadership of the Red Shirt movement.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

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