Recently the Democrat Party went on a major offensive in publicising their version of what occurred during the 2010 clashes, organised a rally and a seminar with their “Thunderbolt” or “Blue Sky” – after their allied satellite TV station, street protest movement. Under the motto “truth of the Men in Black” at first they organised a street rally, stopping by several spots in which armed Red Shirt militants were sighted in 2010. The organisers kept, other than the starting point at the Democrat Party headquarters, the schedule of the rally secret, for fears that Pathum Thani Red Shirt activist Wootipong “Go-Tee” Kodchatamkoon (I have reported previously on his group) might interfere, as he did when People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters and members of the Blue Sky group clashed with Go-Tee in front of the Crime Suppression Division a few weeks ago on 25 September 2012.
The small motorcade set off from the Democrat Party headquarters at 9 am on 12 October 2012, with more journalists, intelligence officers and police officers than protesters. Their first stop was Wat Pratum, where 6 Red Shirts died on 19 May 2010. A dozen Blue Sky protesters awaited the motorcade there, short speeches were held from the mobile stage, and a group of protesters dressed up as Men in Black posed for the cameras, shouting “tee nee mee chut dam!” (Here were Men in Black!). This was somehow a late answer to Sombat Boon-ngam-anong’s 2010 Red Sunday flashmob protests, in which Red Shirt protesters posed as dead, and other protesters shouted: “tee nee me khon tai!” (Here were dead people!).
Soon the motorcade set off to the next, and final, location, to Democracy Monument. There more protesters awaited them, a few dozen, holding up placards and large images of suspected Red Shirt militants. A few counter protesters who gathered at Democracy Monument were asked to leave by police. Those protesters were not Red Shirts though, but quite possibly PAD members. They held up signs asking the Democrat Party why they did not act while in power. No clash occurred, and the Blue Sky protesters continued. The leaders announced a seminar at Lumpini Park the following day, and the protesters dispersed.
On 13 October 2012, about 2500 Blue Sky protesters gathered at the conference hall in Lumpini Park. Many of the Democrat Party elite were present, including former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva, former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, former Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, and many other Democrat MPs. At the entrance of the hall was an exhibition space in which the organisers showed video clips and placards of suspected Red Shirt militants and images of burning buildings from 2010. Both in the exhibition and in speeches on the stage the Democrat Party rejected accusations that they or the military were responsible for the deaths of the protesters, and accused the Men in Black. They accused Thaksin and the Red Shirt leadership of having paid these militants to create chaos in order to overthrow the Abhisit government.
The Blue Sky protest group has now evolved considerably, compared to their first rallies I observed – on 2 June 2012, in front of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, and on 10 June 2012, at the King Taksin statue at Wong Wien Yai in Thonburi. Now they have guard units, some from Democrat Party strongholds, and others are former PAD guards I remembered from the 2008 Government House occupation, such as Chonburi and Rayong guards. Also access to the backstage area was now restricted, and I could not mingle anymore as I could during the first events in June.
A potentially dangerous situation came up when at sunrise a small group of followers of Sae Daeng gathered a few hundred meters away from the Democrat Party rally at the entry to the Lumpini underground station — the spot where Sae Daeng was shot on 13 May 2010. Every 13th of the month Sae Daeng’s followers perform religious rites there, honoring Sae Daeng, and they were not prepared to interrupt this for the Democrat Party rally. Sae Daeng’s daughters, Khattiyah “Dear” Sawasdipol (now a Puea Thai Party MP) and Kittiya “Kae”, attended as well, and lighted incense sticks in front of their father’s portrait. Soon after the group left and no incident occurred.
A combination of several factors has to be looked at if we hope to understand why the Democrat Party has now come out so vocally about the Red Shirt militants. The obvious factor is that after the recent launch of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission report the commission blamed the appearance of the so called Men in Black for the military’s overreaction. Then the government and the UDD strongly contested the findings of the TRCT report, especially disavowing any connection between the Red Shirts and the armed militants. Another often overlooked factor lies in the ongoing court inquests over the culpability of the deaths of the protesters in 2010. The first judgment in the case of the death of the taxi driver Phan Khamkong found the military at fault, and in several other cases verdicts against the military are expected as well. While the military’s first line of defence — stating that they have not fired at protesters seems to be failing against overwhelming evidence to the contrary — there are indications that they have a secondary strategy. Recently, Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, then spokesman for the Center for Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) testified at court in the Channarong Ponsrila case, and when asked about the command structure, he strongly emphasised the chain of command, pointing repeatedly to Suthep Thaugsuban in his function as Director of CRES as the person with the ultimate responsibility for the orders. While Suthep does not contest this, there still seems to be a looming conflict between the military and the Democrat Party. While the Democrats are absolutely opposed to any form of reconciliation bill proposed by the government, in private high ranking military officers have told me that they strongly favor a reconciliation bill. In light of these developments the Democrat Party will have to go on the offensive trying to sway public opinion, in order not to be left out of these power games.
Meanwhile, the Red Shirts have not been inactive either. In recent months I have neglected the developments of the Red Shirts a bit. There was much infighting in different Red Shirt groups, and since the May and June protests at parliament there was no real reason for any side to come out on any strong issue.
On Sunday, 14 October 2012, the Red Shirts held commemorative events for the 14 October 1973 massacre. The UDD had a stage at Laksi, and a new more radical splinter group had a stage at the Democracy Monument. I went to Democracy Monument. This new group named itself “Sun Prasan Ngan Peua Prachatipatai” (Sor Bor Bor), but has no English name yet, and consists of over 100 free Red Shirt groups — the “Gor Tor Mor 50 Khet” (50 Bangkok districts), which split from the UDD at the beginning of the year, many upcountry community Radio Stations (including Go-Tee’s group), and many groups formerly allied with Daeng Siam (dissolved since their main leader Surachai Sae Dan was arrested and imprisoned for violations of the lese majeste law). While this new group is still strongly Red Shirt, it distances itself from the UDD and accuses the UDD of being too close to the government, and of not moving along with their supporters anymore. They position themselves as a more revolutionary group, as opposed to the UDD and the government, which they view as reformist. So far the organisers of this group have no leaders or direct leadership structures. Daranee Kritboonyalai, a wealthy former business woman, who after the 2010 protests went into exile, and recently emerged back in the spotlight as she was verbally attacked in Siam Paragon department store by a teacher, has offered herself as a coordinator.
Peua Thai Party list MP Sunai Julphongsathorn, previously a regular speaker at Daeng Siam rallies, was invited to speak at the rally, but he has no leadership position in this group. To the surprise of the organisers, UDD leaders Arisman Pongruengrong and Shinawat Haboonpad showed up as well and made brief speeches at the stage. Also singer Tom Dundee was there.