It’s a watching and waiting game right now: so-called progressive “free reds” (р╣Бр╕Фр╕Зр╣Ар╕кр╕гр╕╡р╕Кр╕Щ) watching UDD leaders; army and the amaat watching Abhisit to make sure he does the right thing by them; a special “others” who gaze retrospectively on their dominion from an increasingly shaky summit. UDD, despite its claims to being only a mass social movement, are clearly committed to the election for its leaders.
This means a de-facto acceptance of the ground rules established for elections under the existing corrupted and flawed system of administration.
Nuttawut’s convincing and passionate performance on Saturday, 12 March 2011, was, as usual, rhetorically impressive. Although he made some illusions to “up there”, much of it was rather circumspect about touching issues that are close to most people’s heart. At the beginning of the speech, feeling that he should start with the inevitable, he suggested that followers learn by heart a mantra: “Egypt, Tunisia, Libya”, to be recited at will to unsettle the army and ruling elites. But, intimated rhetoric aside, UDD seem to have no action plan on how to conduct a “democratic revolution” – if that time ever came about! Nuttawut’s suggestion to “taa sawaang” [р╕Хр╕▓р╕кр╕зр╣Ир╕▓р╕З] (i.e. the notion of having awareness or “eyes open/clear” to certain related summit realities) and not “paak sawaang” [р╕Ыр╕▓р╕Бр╕кр╕зр╣Ир╕▓р╕З] (i.e. not speaking out what people see in relation to summit) smacks a little of hypocrisy, as Dr Somsak Jeamteerasakul skillfully and lucidly mentions on the web site “Internet Freedom” 13 March 2011, also posted on “Thai e-news”. The “whispering” is over; that was done by everyone five years ago. Now that people understand, can see clearly, they want to shout out loud these realities at the rallies and anywhere that anyone is prepared to listen. The UDD core leaders want to take the masses back a few years. In the negotiating process with the amaat, progress has its price. In not being encouraged to “paak sawaang” how would people actually know about issues if they cannot actually talk about them or share ideas together?
So UDD want people to remain silent regarding summit matters and Article 112 of the Criminal Code (concerning lese majeste); to keep it to themselves whatever they can “see”; rather than collectively discussing this and considering combined future action. Now demonstrators have to be careful about what placards they carry and hand-outs they distribute at UDD rallies, because these are now “off-limits” in the new compact. This is disregarding the fact that democracy can only come about if we include all factors and not just a few niceties for convenience sake. The tactic on changing “government” and not the “regime”, or to naively think that once in government UDD/Phue Thai Party can change the regime and the mulishly skewed judiciary which is embedded in a current “royalist ideology” р╕нр╕╕р╕Фр╕бр╕Бр╕▓р╕гр╕Ур╣Мр╕Бр╕йр╕▒р╕Хр╕гр╕┤р╕вр╣Мр╕Щр╕┤р╕вр╕б is certainly not going to make much difference to the status quo (see Dr Somsak’s thoughtful discussion). Needless to say, we cannot know everything that is going on behind the scenes and can only conjecture based on information we have at hand. At times we also need to be cautious about what information we share online as this can be ammunition for the regime. But, to many observers it seems that Thaksin has rejected the “democratic revolution” route and thereby left some progressives like his former minister and spokesperson Jakrapob Penkair adrift. Thaksin, who enabled the mobilization of the masses at the outset, has instead only chosen to support UDD’s election route as an end in itself.
If UDD/Phue Thai Party campaign on Article 112 then we may be right in thinking that we have actually come some distance over the past 5 years. Alas, this is not the case. Since the first coup in 1947 the Democrat Party (royalists and fascists) brought the monarchy back into politics. It was downhill from there onwards. Now making a compact with the current regime that murdered its own citizens on the streets last year and has just imprisoned Red Shirt USA webmaster Tantawut “Kenny” Taweewarodomkul under lèse–majesté for a whopping 13 years is a risky game plan.
It is one that is not likely to completely win over the “clear eyed” masses. UDD want to talk about everything except what should be talked about. Saturday 19 March 2011 there were about 50% less participants at the rally in Bangkok. Is this indicative of things to come? New leaders are needed to take the masses forward. The UDD core leaders who have decided on a political rather than a street “battlefield” which aims for regime change and democracy must step aside now and not obstruct new initiatives and new leaders.
UDD core leaders on stage made no mention of the fate of Daeng Siam’s articulate, honest, but outspoken leader Surachai (Sae dan) Danwattananusorn. The question many red shirts are asking face-to-face and online blogs is: Does UDD want “real democracy” or is it just playing in the sinking sand pit? And, by extension, is ex-PM Thaksin riding his horse the wrong way around the track? If Thaksin and UDD are sincere about wanting grassroots democracy for the people of Thailand there is no question of compromise and “reconciliation”; only insisting on full accountability through the restoration of justice and systemic institutional change. Doesn’t the past 5 years prove anything?
Perhaps an answer to the UDD core leaders’ new strategy is understandable to some extent because as “politicians” they want to reestablish an influence in the electorate. They then hope they can instigate progressive changes. But they have short memories and forgot what happened to Samak and Somchai’s People’s Power Party even after their apparent massive “electoral victory”! They could not govern the country even with a majority because the amaat regime would not let them, and eventually of course then destroyed them…
According to a number of assessments, the coming “election” in any case looks like it will be at best a slim margin for Phue Thai Party given that the ground rules have been changed since last elections as modified recently in the 2007 Constitution. Thus they must govern with a coalition. This is hardly a situation where they can make sweeping reforms! Readers may like to read Dan Waites’ astute analysis (“What will elections mean for Thailand’s red shirts?” 14 March 2011).
Finally, UDD/Phue Thai Party needs to reflect and consider on the ramifications of both winning and losing the elections (see here).
Meanwhile the red shirt democracy hardcore are upping-the-ante on Article 112 through various campaigns to release Surachai and others, and now 17 provinces to the north of Bangkok have got together to discuss how to take the next step.
James Taylor is an anthropologist at the University of Adelaide
The University of Adelaide