Sunday, April 12, 2009

Anti-Government Protests Scene 2

Anti-Government protesters have taken to the streets of Bangkok once again. While in November the protesters were yellow-shirted royalists representing the country's elite--professionals, military, middle class--this time it is the red-shirted supporters of Thailand's ousted prime minister, who in exile commands a great following. Both groups claim to be pro-democracy, but the definition is muddled. Ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was certainly corrupt (Yellow shirt argument), but instituted many popular programs for the rural and urban working class (Red shirt argument). After the votes were counted last year, Thaksin's party won, but the party was then declared illegal by the courts. The current prime minister (Supported by the yellow shirts) was appointed by parliament. This is the conundrum.

A similar scene as the yellow shirt protests in November is today's action by the red shirts. A friend witnessed yesterday the incapacitating of an army armored vehicle by the red shirts who, he said, "swarmed all over the vehicles like ants." The riot closed a major street while the police stood by. The police are simply outnumbered, and generally do not carry weapons. Likewise, the protesters do not carry guns. By and large, such protests are non-violent, as Thai law enforcement personnel are reluctant to harm fellow citizens who are not endangering lives. There have been exceptions, of course, but few, and no deaths. The army has been called out to contain important areas of the city, but can they? Certainly the police and army have splits in their ranks concerning loyalties. 

Causing further confusion is the fact that the king is the head of the military. As Thailand struggles toward a vision of true democracy, the roles of the monarchy, military, and elected ministry are blurred. This is truly an important transition period in Thai politics. A colleague who has lived in Thailand for many years notes that each time the country hits a rough spot like this, it comes through shaken, but with tangible change toward greater stability.

While Thailand goes through yet another difficult time, the effects on us personally have been minor, as they were in November. Life goes on in most of Thailand as if nothing were happening. Maybe it is because this happens so frequently in Thailand, and eventually it will be sorted out, possibly by the military. But is seems more difficult now as people have become more openly polarized. It may not be so simple this time around. We remain vigilant, and monitor the news reports, as well as avoiding areas where there may be trouble. The news reports may make it seem as though the streets of Bangkok are awash in anarchy, but that is not the case. We are safe, and life goes on. Meanwhile, the tourist beaches are virtually empty, so that is where we are headed today, leaving this troubled city behind for a few days, as the country celebrates the Thai new year.

1 comment:

Denise Krefting said...

John and Kat- I am glad that you are safe. We do hear various news reports.