Even before their massive showdown with the Establishment in Bangkok today, the red-shirted protesters under the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship have demonstrated through sheer numbers that they are a force to be reckoned with. Each night since their current campaign began on March 26, their ranks have swelled into the several tens of thousands through all the roads and alleys surrounding Government House, the focus of their protest.
Emboldened by rage at what they see as systemic injustices over the past few years, they are ready for a rampage.
Such an uncontrollable direction would be misguided and self-defeating for the reds. It would erode the moral high ground and righteousness of their cause which they have taken arduous months to build. To achieve their aims, which remain scattered, the red shirts need self-restraint and a clear and workable way forward for Thailand.
Their opponents and sceptics still would not respect and recognise them. The pro-Establishment bias in Thai society runs deep. Most movers and shakers have an incentive to see the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva succeed and to see Thailand move forward in a direction consistent with Establishment preferences and prerogatives. They may hear the reds' noises but they discount them on various grounds, from gullibility and stupidity to financial opportunism, unwilling to listen to the reds' messages.
The pro-Establishment forces resort to the comfort and convenience of seeing the fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra as the sole force behind the reds. Without Thaksin, they think the UDD's sound and fury would simply fade away.
But the reds have been loud and clear that they are more than about Thaksin, who is becoming a sideshow to the UDD's crusade for the will of the majority to shine in a genuine democracy. The stage leaders of the red shirts are going after privy councillors who they deem to have violated the constitution by masterminding the Sept 19, 2006 military coup and blatantly taking sides in post-coup Thai politics. Despite repeated denials, the evidence and revelations are overwhelming. Meetings and public comments at key junctures happen to fit the sequence of events that transpired from May 2006 through to the rise of the Abhisit government.
Stunned by the strength, commitment and resolve of the reds, the Establishment forces are closing ranks and standing their ground. They are trying to shift the fault lines to a battle between pro- and anti-monarchy movements, even though the reds have exhaustively drawn a distinction between the privy councillors and the King, always elevating His Majesty while making allegedly compromised privy councillors fair game for politics.
It bodes ill that the Abhisit government, apparently competent on policy but ineffectual on Thailand's much-needed reconciliation, has consistently antagonised the red shirts by not acknowledging the merits of their case. The prime minister's prime time press conference last Monday night essentially reinforced officialdom, supported the phuyai in a sweeping fashion, and threatened outright suppression if the reds run amok. The conclusion to many in this structurally polarised society is that Mr Abhisit is merely an offspring of the Establishment.
There has been a lot of good opinion writing coming out of the Bangkok Post recently. They put the columnists over at The Nation to shame.
For some reason, Thinitan seems to always come up with a fairly good analysis, which probably explains why he is quoted in the international press the most.
The columnists over at The Nation subscribe to what Thinitan calls the pro-Establishment bias: Thaksin is evil, the rural Isaan poor are stupid, bought off and deserve to be disenfranchised, the aristocracy, bureaucracy and the military are the holy trinity that can do no wrong, and the foreign educated Democrats are born to rule the country.
The Establishment thinks that rural people are there to clean toilets, till the fields, drive taxis and make som tam and have no right to self-determination. Who needs self-determination when you have the aristocracy, the academics and the media telling you what you need to think and where your place is in life?
Again, causality comes into play. If you are treated like an animal for hundreds of years and told by the Establishment that insults you day in and day out that your place in society is to clean toilets and make som tam and that is your destiny in life because that is Thai culture and Buddhist fatalism, you might start to think that is not the way the world should work.
Thinitan gets what is going on. The idiots at The Nation don't.