Red Shirts Send Warning to Thai Elite
Nirmal Ghosh – Straits Times
Thailand’s “red shirt” movement is flexing its muscles again, saying reconciliation must be preceded by truth and accountability for the political violence that left 91 people dead two years ago.
On the anniversary of a military crackdown in the streets of the capital in 2010, tens of thousands marched to a rally at Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong intersection yesterday.
There, the leaders of the movement warned that the violence should not be swept under the rug in the interest of a cosy compromise by the political elite.
While it is clear that the red shirts have an independent voice, it is also clear that the movement continues to support Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai party — and her older brother and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
But it may be the first time in a history littered with coups d’etat and political violence that accountability is being demanded by such a wide cross-section of Thais.
“We want to show the power of the red shirts,” said the movement’s chairman Thida Tavornseth in an interview behind the stage at the rally in downtown Bangkok’s business and shopping district.
“We are for reconciliation, but it’s a long way off and you need the truth to come out first.”
The rally underlined the breadth of continued support for Thaksin, who spoke via a video link to the crowd. It was a reminder that, even after he was booted out of office by the army in 2010 and had two of his political parties disbanded, the Puea Thai party still managed to sweep elections last year and his sister became the country’s first female prime minister.
“We want to show not the government but the aristocrats our power,” Thida said.
The red shirts have challenged Thailand’s entrenched power structure, demanding an end to interference in electoral politics by the “amart,” or aristocratic and bureaucratic elite, and the army.
The old elite are deeply suspicious of Republican elements in the red shirt movement, and fear erosion in the stature of the monarchy and the rise of populist elected governments.
Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha last week warned red shirts against forming “red villages” in southern Thailand as the movement has successfully done in the north and northeast. “We must allow time to know what true democracy is, and to what extent,” he said.
The red shirts are a sprawling coalition of groups which has grown in strength and organizational capability. But a move towards an amnesty for crimes related to politics in the interest of reconciliation is being hotly debated in the movement.
Last week, Somsak Jiamthirasakul, a Thammasat University academic, was quoted in the Post Today criticizing red shirt politicians now in positions of power in the government.
“It is not fair to ask the grassroots to risk losing their lives while those claiming to love democracy, having been elected, do nothing,” he said. “You are elected to serve the people, not to enjoy political power and cling to your posts.”
Red shirts are divided over whether to support an amnesty in the interest of continued political stability with Yingluck in charge and Thaksin’s potential return to Thailand, or to pursue justice for those killed in battles with the army in 2010.
“The purpose of today is to remember our heroes. We must bring the murderers to justice,” said Weng Tojirakarn, one of the movement’s leaders.
Referring to violence that left scores dead in 1973, 1976 and 1992, with almost nobody ever held accountable, he said: “This time is totally different. This time the people are involved in the situation.”
Many supporters of the movement are also upset that prominent red shirt Jatuporn Promphan was removed from his seat in Parliament.
Last Friday, the constitutional court ruled that his election last year was invalid because his membership in the Puea Thai party had been nullified automatically when he was jailed on remand last May.
“All the independent organizations are still in the hands of the oligarchs,’ Weng said, citing the verdict on Jatuporn, who was due to speak at the rally last night.
He defined “oligarchs” as “a group of people, former civil servants and military officers.”
But he said: “If there is no change in the political structure, it will be very dangerous for Thaksin to come back” from the self-exile he has been in since 2008.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times