The Red Shirts support Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand who following a brief spell as Economic Adviser in the Cambodian Government, now resides in Russia. Back in 2006, following political unrest and allegations of corruption, Thaksin was ousted in a military coup. The current Prime Minister and leader of the Democratic Party is Aphisit Vejjajiva. Aphisit’s major problem is that he was never really elected as Prime Minister of Thailand but came to power through some form of coalition. I don’t pretend to understand it, but the Red Shirts want Aphisit out because he was never ’Elected’ and the Yellow Shirts don’t want Thaksin in because they think he’s a bit of a crook. Just to demonstrate an unbiased approach, Aphisit is also under investigation regarding allegedly illegal political donations to his Democratic Party. I however could not possibly comment on such rumours about either man, at least not whilst I reside in the fine Kingdom of Thailand. As for the Blue Shirts, I haven’t got a bloody clue what they stand for let alone who they support … mai pen rai
So, the Red Shirts set up camp between the BTS Stations of Chit Lom and Siam, and then extended along Rajadamari Road to the side of Lumpuni Park. That’s where I’ve been for the past few days and I have to say that it all seems really rather happy and cheerful. The people are warm, friendly and welcoming. During the day, a few police loiter around the entrances to the encampment and share food and water with the protesters manning the barricades. As night falls, the mood in and around the encampment seems to change. The army silently encircle the camp with their guns and the atmosphere changes dramatically. It still doesn’t feel threatening, but there is definitely a certain 'menace' in the air. I know that there has been extreme violence on both sides, and that people have lost their lives, but I can only really say what I see. Without exception the people that I meet insist on telling me that they are "Peaceful Protesters" and want to totally disassociate themselves from any form of violence. I have no reason to doubt their statements, but I fear that when it comes to deciding what actions to take next, the Red Shirt leaders might be just a little bit divided on how best to deliver their.
There have been violent incidents at the National Monument, Khao San Road and of course Phan Fan Bridge where twenty six people were killed and many more injured. In the main, these incidents reflected quite badly on the authorities and quite possibly gained new support for the protesters. However, on Friday a more radical Red Shirt Leader stormed the Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok. Six hundred patients had to be evacuated, including Thailand’s most eminent religious leader. As evening came, the other Red Shirt leaders had to back down and apologise for the renegades actions. It was a major PR disaster and was later compounded by another break-away group of Red Shirts causing chaos on the Bangkok Sky Train System (BTS). I'm not Max Clifford, but I don't think that either of those actions were vote winners. If you want to bring people around to your way of thinking, then you shouldn't really piss about with hospitals full of sick people or stop commuters from getting home after a hard days work.
As the majority of Red Shirt protesters are farmers from the rural North, Prime Minister Aphisit probably hopes that as the seasonal rains begin, they'll drift home to begin planting their flooded fields with rice. It's logical that they would, but then again, Thailand is one of the most wonderfully illogical countries that I've ever had the good fortune to visit. Prime Minister Aphisit has declared a 'State of Emergency' in Bangkok, but he hasn't declared 'Martial Law' because it's not within his power to do so, only the military can do that. Amongst all of this mess, somebody somewhere will spot an opportunity. For political or financial reasons, or more probably both, somebody will raise their head above the parapet and the political map of Thailand will inevitably change. But, whether that change will be for better or for worse I have no idea ... mai pen rai