July 26th was Thaksin’s big birthday party, celebrated all over Thailand. Here in Bangkok three main venues of the festivities were chosen – Wat Kaeow Fa, Wat Uthaitharam, and the big Chinese table dinner at Mangkorn Luang Restaurant.
I went at 9 am to Wat Kaeow Fa first. Thousands of Thaksin’s supporters gathered there. The event was hosted by former Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and his wife, Thaksin’s sister Yaowapa. There were many elaborate rituals, such as protecting Thaksin, and lifting curses laid by his opponents. One ritual, for example, countered a curse laid by the PAD some time before. Four upturned bowls on a table were, after chanting by four monks, turned around. This was to symbolize the lifting of the spell.
An amusing episode was when Somchai was to feed a few bulls with grass. One of the bulls was aggravated by the crowd wearing Red Shirts, and broke free. I think I made not the most courageous impression when I had to jump over several chairs to escape the mad bull running after me. If anyone thinks of going to attend the bull running in Pamplona – don’t!
The ceremonies ended with a phone-in by Thaksin, and the crowd sang ‘happy birthday’.
In the later afternoon, after some heavy rainshowers, I made my way to Bang Na, to the Mangkorn Luang Restaurant, a huge Chinese restaurant styled after a Chinese temple, with tiled roofs, walkways, a lake, and a tall pagoda. There were many pretty reception girls and beer girls, and waiters on roller skates. The venue was sold out in advance – a table for 5000 baht, a single seat for 500 baht. Organizers said that they expect to make a loss of at least several hundred thousand baht, so they could keep the dinner cheap enough.
Attending were many Pheua Thai MP’s and stars, and members of Thaksin’s family, including his sisters Yaowapa and Yingluck.
I had no chance to taste the food – the dishes brought to the journalist’s tables were attacked by my colleagues like hungry wolves (I managed though to snatch a small piece of the cake behind the stage – very nice!).
After many speeches Thaksin appeared in a video-link. The candles of the cake were blown out by Yaowapa and Yingluck, with Thaksin in Dubai simultaneously blowing out the candles of his cake there. The party ended with fireworks and songs by several stars, such as plaeng look thung star Takadaen Chonlada. The crowd cheered when it was announced over the microphone that the Pheua Thai Party-supported candidate won a Provincial Adminsitration Organization election over the Democrat-supported candidate in Surat Thani.
I went last to Wat Uthaitharam, hosted by Veera Musikapong, Dr. Weng Tojirakarn and Shinawat Habunphad from the taxi radio station. Many thousand Red Shirts had gathered there.
It seems that Thaksin Shinawatra together with his family might play a much larger role again in the Red Shirts, as was indicated by his increased presence during the Songkran riots and its run up, and in many of the new Red Shirt publications. It remains to be seen if this is a turn towards personality cult, or if the aspirations for a more open Democracy in Thailand will still be the main focus in the Red Shirt movement. Clear though is that Thaksin and the Red Shirts still have massive support, and show no inclination of giving up their struggle. The birthday celebrations were a PR victory for Thaksin over Abhisit, whose strategically well laid football game of government vs. foreign diplomats may have stolen some of the media attention, but did not get much interest from the Thai population.