Monday was the day of the Bangkok Shutdown. You may have read about it in the news. It's the latest in a series of sad events for Thailand led by a Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat lawmaker who has himself previously been the subject of numerous corruption scandals. Oh and he was also indicted for ordering army crackdowns on Red Shirt protesters in 2010. Ninety-two people died then. Role model he ain't. What we have now in Thailand is a serious attempt to overthrow the government under the guise of "democratic reform". They want less democracy for Thailand.
The fact that the Democrat Party are involved is an immediate red flag. Thailand's Democrat Party are anything but democratic in their intentions. They can't win an election to save their lives so they're pulling out all the stops they can in order to kick out Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's now-caretaker prime minister whose party won the general election in 2011. She is, of course, the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra. We all know that. Thaksin, as his detractors love to point out, is the root of all that is wrong in Thailand. He also is certainly no angel, but this goes beyond one man. This is about the future of the country.
At the Bangkok Shutdown thousands of people have occupied various busy parts of Bangkok, complete with tents and sleeping mats. It's not really a shutdown, though. Bangkok more or less functioned as normal Monday with the exception of a number of mall closures. About 140 schools also had to close and many people worked from home. The streets in central Bangkok quiet and there were fewer cars on the road, which if anything was a good thing. How many people were out there is difficult to gauge. Reports put it at somewhere in the tens of thousands (up to 100,000 total?). That's near the truth, but it's nowhere near the kind of numbers you'd expect if this movement is something a large section of society support — and it's nowhere near the number Suthep et al have claimed.
This isn't a popular movement. In fact, I think it's incredibly disjointed. I wanted to see for myself just how much of a mess this has become, so I spent some time Monday around Ratchprasong and Asok, getting a mere snapshot, no doubt, but it was enough. It was pathetic. There were a lot of people there, certainly, but it was depressing on so many levels.
At Asok, I listened as a noisy cover band belted out The Final Countdown, We Are The Champions and What's Up by 4 Non Blondes. There were all kinds of people there from all kinds of places. Were they friendly? I guess. They weren't unfriendly. They actually looked bored for the most part. The ludicrous Michael Yon gushed that this this was "the friendliest massive protest ever". He actually wrote that. Taking everything at face value as he does, Yon has apparently made himself right at home acting as the unofficial English-language spokesperson for Suthep and co.
Late in the afternoon, a rabble of marching whistlers approached the protest area. As it drew nearer, this is what I saw.
Yes. A shiny new Merc. That was the vehicle leading Suthep's group as they strolled up the road. You could not have scripted a more ironic scene. A bunch of people claiming to speak for the entire country, rolling up in a vehicle that is the epitome of wealth, luxury and privilege. A few more people passed and there he was, the man the Asia Society proclaimed "person of the year" after an online poll that really served no purpose. Suthep beat Malala Yousafzai by more than 100,000 votes. Now that is ridiculous.
It would be all too easy to get caught up in the theatrics of what Suthep and those pulling his strings are doing. But then you'd find yourself sounding like Michael Yon. Yes, on the surface, democratic reform sounds like it makes sense, but that isn't what this movement represents. What it represents is, dare I say it, fascistic to the core. These people don't want the election on February 2. In fact, many of them don't want elections at all. They want an appointed council. They want to rob the people of Thailand the opportunity to chose who their government is. I'm not saying Thailand's general elections are perfect. The choices aren't great. But they are choices nonetheless.
Many of the people at these protests would rather these choices did not exist. I say "many" and not "all" because I don't believe everyone at these protests is firmly behind the overall goal. I have friends and colleagues and acquaintances who have been out there on the streets at one time or other these past few weeks and I wouldn't necessarily call them fascists. I'd call them confused. They want change, but they don't really know how to articulate this.
Put this in the context of the Bangkok Shutdown and you have a whole bunch of people out on the streets who have come together without really knowing why. At Ratchprasong, there were again a lot of people, but they were mostly asleep, and if they weren't asleep they looked sure looked it, clapping their clappers and whistling robotically after every sentence that came booming out of the sound system, taking selfies all the while
While rhetoric, hyperbole and outright lies rained down from the stages, nationalistic imagery was everywhere. T-shirts, face paint, hats, bandanas, placards, whistles, hand clappers: everything was emblazoned with the Thai flag. It was like being at an EDL rally in the UK without the beer and constant abuse. It was as if reaffirming their national identity was all they had in common, but more importantly, it was like they were thumbing their noses up at the rest of the country, suggesting everyone else is somehow less than Thai.
That's the problem. There is an enormous amount of condescension in this country. Look at the likes of Chitpas Kridakorn, the Singha heiress who said that "many Thais lack a true understanding of democracy… especially in the rural areas". This kind of point of view is common. It's just a shame that Chitpas is such a prominent figure. Some people listen to her. They can relate to her. They feel a connection. It's sad. This whole movement is sad. Just look at the T-shirts that were on sale right next to the main stage at Ratchprasong. Is this something you'd want to be a part of?
How about these placards, particularly the one on the left? Is that cool? Is that a serious political movement?
I don't blog much about Thai politics these days — I don't blog much at all really — but some things need to be said. What happens next for Thailand is out of these people's hands. They're being used. The reasons why they're being used go deep into a subject area that is above my pay grade and something I'm uncomfortable blogging about while I'm in Thailand, but the clues are there. There are those who would stop at nothing — civil war is a possibility — to get what they want here.
I will no doubt take some flak for writing a blog post like this, but I'm frustrated with what's been happening in Thailand and it's been going on for so long now that I don't know how I feel any more about this country. Call me what you will, but these are my personal thoughts. No stress. That's enough words for now.
Note: I took all the pics on this page.