Thailand: 60,000 Red Shirt protesters bring Bangkok to a standstill
By Mong Palatino
January 11, 2011 -- Global Voices -- Red Shirt anti-government protesters in Thailand mobilised tens of thousands of their members in central Bangkok on January 9, 2011, as they continued to press their demand for more democratic reforms in government. Police estimated the crowd at 30,000 but rally organisers claimed they gathered 60,000 in the streets.
It was the biggest Red Shirt rally months after a violent government crackdown on protests. It was also the first major rally after the lifting of the state of emergency in the country’s capital. The Red Shirts core members are supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra but the group has since then become a broad movement calling for substantive changes in Thai government and society.
Bangkok Pundit confirms that the Sunday rally was the biggest Red Shirt protest since the street blockades last year.
This is actually the biggest rally since the March-May protests by a long way. On September, around 10,000 reds attended the first mass post-crackdown demonstration in Bangkok. Around 8,000 reds gathered in Bangkok on October 10, another 12,000 in Ayutthaya on October 17, and up to 10,000 gathered again on November 19 to mark the six-month anniversary of the May 19 crackdown.
Richard Barrow provides some key observations of the rally:
The rally started at the Democracy Monument. Jatuporn Prompan, the Red Shirt leader, was forbidden by a court order to go and speak at the rally. However, he defied that order today. He not only turned up, but he gave a speech as well. That is really what made this rally so different from anything we have seen since the bloody crackdown by the army which resulted in 91 deaths. For the first time we had people giving speeches.
The parade virtually brought many roads through Bangkok to a standstill. Despite that, I witnessed many shopkeepers coming out to clap and cheer as the Reds passed them by… the thousands that came today mainly came by their own transport. Most people were from around Bangkok and the surrounding provinces.
Their demand was simple, release on bail the red shirt leaders in prison. They cried it is unfair that the yellow shirt leaders who occupied government house and closed down the airport are still walking free.
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60,000 Red Shirts rally in opposition to the government
January 9, 2011-- Sunday's massive rally by the Red Shirts has shocked the establishment. An estimated 60,000 protesters turned out in support of their political beliefs. They initially departed from Democracy Monument, a focal point of remembrance for their dead, who were killed during the May 19, 2010, crackdown.
The crush of Red Shirts on Sunday (January 9) signaled that with the disbandment of the CRES [state of emergency decree] more are willing to take to the streets to show their dissaisfaction with the current government. Prime Minister Abhisit has talked about reconcilliation to smooth the political divide but by and large the Red Shirt movement has brushed off his attempts. The Red Shirt leaders and laymen believe that Abhisit's policy initiatives are insincere and self-promotional.
The reliqueshing of the emergency decree and the subsequent invoking of the Internal Security Act (ISA) still leaves all of the government mechanisms in place for the government to take a hard line against its opposition. The military can still be used as a policing apparatus and people can be detained for up to seven days without legal representation. However cynical, the invoking of the ISA might be, it does allow for more political freedom albeit at the behest of the government and military.
Abhisit's boldfaced strategy coming into the as yet to be declared elections strays wildly from past Democrat Party platforms. They have taken a page from former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's play book. Thaksin won over the provincial voters through populist policies and a promise to reform the system. Thaksin kept his promises with soft loans, a 30-baht health plan and a wildly popular OTOP project where the provinces used their skills and produced high-quality goods for internal sale and on the international market.Prime Minister Abhisit has largely copied Thaksin's platform and introduced his own populist policies in an attempt to lure Red Shirt supporters to his camp. His strategy will largely depend on the implementation of these projects.
Abhisit's Pracha Wiwat (Public Interest) plan is based on nine principles. These are mostly centred around good governance and social welfare programs. The issuance of low-interest rate loans of 5000 baht to taxi drivers, motorbike taxi drivers and street vendors would appear to be a positive step. However, 5000 baht in today's world is not nearly enough to do anything constructive with. There is nothing of substance to this plan and it has been criticised as being a governmental payoff to buy votes.
Another major point of this plan is the extension of social security to 24 million Thais in the informal jobs sector. This is supposed to help low-paid Thais when they near retirement age. However, the poor in Thailand never retire but continue to work until they are physically unable. What paltry sumd they garner from social security will do them little if any good. The Abhisit oil subsidy program of 7.3 billion baht aimed at keeping cooking oil and gas prices low is a shortsighted venture aimed at drawing votes. How long could the government be expected to subsidy the nation's oil and gas prices?
The most head-scratching proposal is Abhisit's plan to reduce crime in Bangkok by 20% in six months. There have been little if any details given about how this will be achieved and government agencies, most notably the Crime Suppression Division, has said it's "impossible" to do so in such a short amount of time.
In 2009 the Royal Thai Police Force was viewed as the most corrupt government agency. It will be very hard for the public to believe that one of the engines of corruption in Thailand is wiling or able to affect real change in the crime rate.
None of Abhisit's plans mean anything if they are not administered in a transparent and equitable manner. The current government's record on the administration of the country doesn't bode well for the future of Pracha Wiwat. The government is perceived by the public as being more corrupt now than under former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Abhisit's nine-point plan hinges on whether or not it can be administered in a clear, efficient and equitable fashion. How much of the funds will reach the provinces? Abhisit's needs to sway a large section of the population from the north and northeast if he is to have any chance winning an election. If the funds for these programs are siphoned off by corruption before they reach the people he needs the most, he has little if any chance to win their hearts.
The insincerity with which Pracha Wiwat is viewed might play into the hands of Abhisit's opposition. The people can take the money and wai but in still vote for the opposition. Nothing guarantees which box they tick.
What can be guaranteed are the memories of May 19, especially for the people of the north and northeast. The January 9 rally suggest sthat they won't. Sixty thousand Thais, mainly from Bangkok, rallied to show that they won't forget. Hundreds of thousands in the provinces share their discontent. The killing, jailing and oppression of their brethren touched too many lives and already cemented their votes. No amount of government handouts will change their hearts.