In the recent weeks the activities of several anti-government groups have come to media attention: the most noticeable is the Internet based “Thai Spring” group founded by well known Thaksin opponents Kaewsan Atibodhi and Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn, and the white Guy Fawkes mask group. On 2 June 2013, the white masked group held their second public protest (after a brief appearance in Silom Road), where about 500 protesters walked from Central World to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. About half the number of the protesters came from the groups that have camped out at Sanam Luang for the past month.
While most Thai media describe the white masked group as a completely new group, I first saw this group attempting the same tactic in late 2011 during a Siam Samakhi event.
Of course Red Shirts had to show their presence as well, and about two hours after the white mask group went home, a small social media based Red Shirt flash mob with red masks gathered at the Siam Square BTS station, ironically calling themselves “Red Sayiew” (Red feeling sexy), a word play regarding the now dissolved “Red Siam” whose leader Surachai Sae Dan has been convicted for lese majeste violations.
The following day, Monday, 3 June 2013, about 300 former Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) fighters, cadres and their families who joined the Sanam Luang protesters marched in protest against the government to Government House, wearing CPT uniforms, and carrying a picture of the King.
These very recent events stand, however, in a context quite ignored by the local English language media.
For about one month the so called “Thai People Network” led by former Minister of Commerce in the Banharn government Chaiwat Sinsuwong and former Senator (and former CPT member) Somboon Thongburan (their former leader was Veera Somkwamkid, imprisoned in Cambodia for more than two years), have camped out at Sanam Luang with from 600 to 1000 protesters. This network is made up of three main groups: the Thai Patriot Network led by Chaiwat and Somboon with their affiliated 13 Siam Thai satellite TV station, the former CPT members who now call themselves “Palang Thammatipatai”, and a farmers’ group – “Sapha Kasetagorn Thai Haeng Chart”, with a few hundred villagers mostly from Khorat and Buriram.
Before arriving in Bangkok, the network marched from the Cambodian border to Bangkok, camped out first at Sanam Chai before slipping into Sanam Luang just before the Plowing Ceremony. All efforts of the Bangkok Metropolititan Administration (BMA) to negotiate with the Network to get them out of Sanam Luang were fruitless.
Interesting is that while initially the group’s main emphasis was on the Preah Vihaer Temple issue, as soon as they arrived in Bangkok this moved into the background, and their main rhetoric turned into overthrowing the Yingluck government, describing the government as a parliamentary dictatorship. They also declared their camping ground at Sanam Luang a zone in which the government has no power anymore.
While the leadership level of the “Thai People Network” consists of those that have been formerly part of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and are still strongly part of the wider yellow movement, the common protesters are a mixed bunch. Most of the farmers I have interviewed have never been out protesting (and seem not to have much idea on political issues), some of the ex CPT members I interviewed were once Red Shirts, including one elderly man I interviewed who was protesting at Rajaprasong 3 years ago. While the PAD is not (yet) supporting the Sanam Luang protests, several local PAD groups have a few members at the site, and also most of the guards are PAD guards.
Other well known figures that have appeared at the Sanam Luang protest are Somsak Kosaisuk, who renamed the “New Politics Party” as a Social Democrat Party (modeled on the Swedish Social Democrats) now called “Pak Sangkrom Prachatipatai Thai”, retired army General Preecha Iamsuphan and retired Admiral Bannawit Kengrien. Prasong Soonsiri also made a brief visit to the protest site.
Quite noticeable is the absence of the Santi Asoke sect. Santi Asoke was previously closely affiliated with the Thai Patriot Network, and has since 2006 always been at the forefront of anti-Thaksin protests, where their Dhamma Army has provided food and catering, and organized the facilities of the protest camps, more recently during the two Pitak Siam rallies. I have seen only a few individual Santi Asoke members at the protest site.
Also the Democrat Party seems to keep itself clear of the protest movement, so far. I have neither seen guard units affiliated with Democrat Party local MPs, nor any other Democrat Party figures making appearances.
On Saturday, 8 June 2013, the free Red Shirts had another flash mob activity, where about 50 to 100 Red Shirts gathered at Sanam Luang in the late afternoon, at the opposite end to where the Yellow Shirt camp is. They gathered there to fly kites, which in Thai language is a play on words – flying a kite – “Chuk Wao” – also means ‘to masturbate’, getting a few chuckles out of the Yellow Shirts, who observed the event without disturbing it.
While presently the different groups’ aim of overthrowing the Yingluck government seems a bit farfetched as they simply do not have the necessary numbers (yet?), these protests cannot be overlooked. This is now the 4th concerted effort since the 2011 general elections to organize a protest movement by Thaksin’s opponents. The first was Siam Samakhi, which did not take off, and seems to have been abandoned for the time being, the second were the protests at parliament in late May/early June 2012 when the government tried first to introduce a reconciliation bill, and the third were the two Pitak Siam rallies, which ended in tears. The yellow side of the conflict remains highly divided — both in ideology and marred by personal conflicts (more so than the Red Shirts, who regardless of strong internal conflicts share a common ideology) — and lack an overall and unified leadership. Efforts to overcome these handicaps are ongoing.
This present effort could be seen as a warming up period, which may get hotter when the parliament opens in August, and several extremely controversial issues will be debated: the constitution changes and the different bills of either Worachai Hema’s amnesty proposal or Chalerm Yubamrung’s reconciliation proposal — which are all rejected by the anti-government protesters. While it is impossible to see the outcome yet, it is clear that Thai street politics remain fragile and unpredictable.