Now that the red shirt protests have come to an end (or paused?) ((The demonstrations seem to be over for now, that is. The red shirts say they’ll be back on Sat., March 27.)), here’s the question: What now?
Here are a few observations and questions, many of which I expect to re-visit in subsequent posts:
The reds shirts gained some credibility because the protests were peaceful. ((Note: there have been several mysterious grenade attacks at various locations in Bangkok of late. The Bangkok Post has the latest here. It is unclear who is behind these attacks. Both the red shirts and government blame each another.)) The violence that occurred in April, 2009 discredited the reds’ cause. And the Abhisit government dealt with the unrest successfully, boosting the PM’s stature.
The police — many of whom, I understand, were from the north and northeast of Thailand, like many of the red shirts — showed restraint in allowing the protesters to perform their “blood protests” in an orderly manner.
No doubt the notion of a controlled protest that involves the splattering of human blood seems contradictory. But I can tell you, from witnessing the events at Government House and the prime minister’s residence, that the police dealt with the crowds in a measured, well-coordinated manner.
You might not get this impression from reading the local media here ((For more on the subject, I refer you to this CSM story today about Thailand’s media landscape)) but the red shirts seem to enjoy significant support among Bangkok people.
To wit: I spent many hours attending red shirt protests and observing the red shirt caravans that paraded around town, and the onlookers overwhelmingly greeted the red demonstrators warmly. For example, see the image below, in which what appear to be everyday folks — not protesters who are wearing red attire — have come out to cheer the protesters on.
This is notable because the red shirts are typically characterized as being farmers from the north and northeast who are at odds with the Bangkok middle class, business establishment, and bureaucracy. ((Yes, I realize that it’s possible that these pedestrians are also from the provinces.))
How will we remember the “blood protests“? The shocking use of protesters’ blood made international headlines, raising awareness of the red shirts’ cause abroad. But did the tactic alienate moderate Thais who are neither red nor yellow?
People I have talked to have said that the reds’ use of blood was meant to appeal to their own base, and to seize the attention of those in power. So perhaps that’s all the red shirt leaders care about.
Can the red shirts move beyond Thaksin? Or do they want to? The exiled prime minister is reviled by many (non red shirt) Thais. Indeed, even some red shirts with whom I spoke told me that they were protesting not in support of Thaksin, but for democracy and what they call a level playing field.
Still, Thaksin’s image could be seen on many, many signs and banners, such as the flag below. Thaksin is undoubtedly popular among many red shirts. But will the man prove to be a stumbling block to the red shirt movement?
Will dissolving the house solve anything? This is what the reds say they are trying to accomlish. But looking ahead, if new elections are held, and if the Thaksin-friendly Phua Thai party wins — as it likely would — what would happen then? Would Phua Thai appoint another proxy for Thaksin? If so, will the PAD — the yellow shirts — return?
That’s it for now. More on this soon, I’m sure.
By the way, my five observations from last year — after the Songkran unrest ended — are similar to some of these thoughts. That’s testament, I suppose, to the intractability of the problem.