Enter the orange shirts
In A city of clogged streets, motorbike taxis are the essential lubricant. They weave through rush-hour traffic, mount pavements and roar down the labyrinthine alleys known as soi. They lurk in gangs on street corners, waiting to carry people or goods, or run errands. Some 200,000 drivers sporting orange jackets are reckoned to ply their trade in Bangkok.
The motorbike drivers are mad about politics, which in Thailand is colour-coded. The drivers are overwhelmingly “red” and loyal to a former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Most hail from the pro-Thaksin north-east, and were in the thick of the action during last year’s rowdy red-shirt rallies. Motorbikes were the red-shirt cavalry, keeping tabs on the movements of state troops, who ended the protests with the loss of 91 lives.
This is an election year, and every vote counts. So the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, no red shirt he, has singled out motorbike taxis for attention under a new, pro-poor programme called the People’s Agenda. Along with millions of other informal workers, motorbike drivers will be eligible for social security, loans from state banks and other benefits. To drive the point home, Mr Abhisit posed with an orange-clad motorbike driver at the launch of the programme, which he described as a “New Year’s gift” to Thai people.