Giles Ji Ungpakorn in a piece recently on his web site “The Red Shirt Movement in Thailand today” gives an overview on the state of the RS movement today from his understanding and direct experience.
However, this needs some commentary. More often than not Ji’s assessment on such matters as the skewed Thai judiciary, anti-democratic nature of civil society, summit relations and the social problematic in Thai history makes firm argumentation. But his new piece on the current state of play in the Red Shirt movement has some inherent problems, but he argues correctly that there are fragmentations or differences in the movement. This is of course precisely what the amaat regime would like to see. Differences should not equate to divisiveness and unfortunately some actors are generating ideological divisions. Because of the historical formation of the movement it is not surprising that there are splits among certain interests: e.g. among ex-TRT hard-core, intellectuals, social activists, and social networkers (face-books). Many yellow shirt academics/intellectuals such as Seksan Prasertkul (Red Shirts as simply the masses mobilised for particular elite interests) or Praphat Pintobtaeng (Red Shirts as little more than frustrated millennial articulations or regional phumiibun) are far short of understanding the true nature of this as a new social movement.
Point 1 in Ji’s discursus mentions the issue of an assumed Phuea Thai Party complicity. We know that politicians of all shades in Thailand are known for shifting where the wind blows strongest and that every politician needs to protect their own local interests because parties rise and fall according to fate: So much for ideology. But there is actually no evidence of PT doing a “double deal” behind backs; PT are a political party fighting a rear-guard action and have to capitalise on their disempowered situation as best they can to bring down the illegitimate Abhisit regime.
And if PT are to be re-elected under free elections then good for them: it shows the democratic process works as majority people positively affected by TRT policies and programs see PT as the best option. I don’t have a problem with that as long as PT, as with any political party, is held accountable to the electorate. There seems to be an attempt to discredit all new historic political parties by the left (even opposition like PT); now we see the forces against a democratic process emerge from all sides because people have to be represented as some level in a parliamentary system; even in a Socialist state. This is the argumentation from the right wing: democracy can only be allowed if directed from above by those who know best (i.e. controlling patronage interests).
Leftist in the RS movement, notably those who came into the anti-fascist movement from an anti-capitalist/anti-neoliberal/anti-globalisation movement around the turn of the century (and thus anti-Thaksin) position are trying to distance themselves from any established form of political representation of the masses. To the masses Thaksin was more than a person but a symbol of the democratic process through his policies and programs aimed at the village level and encouraged, directly or indirectly, greater political and social inclusion in governance. The entrenched position of majority Thais today has been due to “taa sawang” (р╕Хр╕▓р╕кр╕зр╣Ир╕▓р╕З; literally “bright eyes”) or “awakening” to the possibilities of full participation. The queen’s participation at the yellow shirt cremation in October 2008 became known as “Taa Sawang Day”…
I am also baffled to read “…It might also be a first step towards a pardon for Taksin. What it will not be is a first step to Democracy and Social Justice”. Thaksin was in fact, as we now know, a victim; he was efficiently set up by the amaat regime and its civil society handmaidens (especially media) working in alliance with military; evidence is plentiful, as is the case of double standards and bias in the courts at all levels. There is no unequivocal evidence against Thaksin; assumption is not guilt. Media rhetoric is not enough, even though police are currently using evidence issued by ASTV to press charges against RS people.
Point 2 notes a “dirty compromise” is underway. My discussions and interviews with PT would see this as incorrect. It is the last thing they would want, or what their electorate would want to see. There were of course rumours of behind the scenes negotiations involving certain interests even during the last days at Rajprasong this year; but this did not come to fruition. Ji talks about “horizontal, grassroots leadership” ignoring that it is something TRT had put in place 2002-5. It is precisely because of the success of Thaksin’s decentralised grassroots empowerment that we see people today conscientized (not because of leftist NGOs and intellectuals) and prepared to still vote for Thaksin even after all the propaganda during the last five years. And it is precisely because of this success that the amaat regime came back with a vengeance in 2006 to hinder the democratic process getting out of hand (away from their hands).
Points 3 & 4 refers to conscientization (Freire’s conscientiza├з├гo) but ignores the will of the masses; those who have a right to vote based on their direct/felt experience with grassroots democracy instituted by Thaksin, bypassing established civil service and NGO elite patronages direct to new village committees. Ji mentions the Red Schools which were to teach the fundamentals of democracy at the local level; these are not new and were in place right up until when the state of emergency was declared; these were mobile units used for holding one or two day field workshops at the community level. The teaching unit is called: Democracy Implementation School of NPC Red for Whole Land (р╣Вр╕гр╕Зр╣Ар╕гр╕╡р╕вр╕Щр╕Ьр╕╣р╣Йр╕Ыр╕Пр╕┤р╕Ър╕▒р╕Хр╕┤р╕Зр╕▓р╕Щр╣Бр╕Фр╕Зр╕Чр╕▒р╣Йр╕Зр╣Бр╕Ьр╣Ир╕Щр╕Фр╕┤р╕Щ).
Briefly, the problem today for the movement is to get beyond disputed ideological rhetoric, otherwise the movement will look like a smorgasbord of divisive views. The first priority is to uproot the amaat regime and its military forces. This is something that Dr Weng Tojirakarn’s wife Thida Thavornseth who is now coming into prominence, has noted as a hard task ahead that may require time without a radicalized and militarized force to challenge the hegemony of the Thai military. Horizontal, rhizomatic structures are best but based on commonalities and smooth discrete flows of information rather than marked differences. The compact of agreement should be simply on basic questions concerned with standards of human rights, social justice and the termination of certain elements in the system who are prepared to resort to unethical means to achieve their aims, and an enfranchised electoral democracy where “one voice=one vote”.
Finally, it is through network strength that the RS movement can bring about real change; in working together. So we have to move beyond the Thaksin issue, without leaving him behind if we believe in justice and fairness, and not be pulled into perpetuating the tangential stories created about him simply because he is just another rich capitalist entrepreneur contested by other elite interests who are now prepared to go to any length to discredit him for their own personal ends. The “hearts and minds” of the majority peoples mentioned in Ji’s final paragraph are already determined who and what they want see in the short, medium to long term: I would suggest that it is social and political inclusion; simply the right to choose and to be heard. RS leaders should start to act as facilitators of change, not political propagandists/ideologues intent on point-scoring; who is real who is fake red; otherwise it will simply be a dog chasing its tail: going nowhere while the amaat regime continues to smile…