Thursday, 25 February 2010

Beyond the red mist surrounding Thaksin

While all eyes in Thailand are focused on what has been touted as a doomsday Constitution Court verdict on former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s frozen billions, the pro-Thaksin, red-shirted United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) is in the midst of another build-up to street protests against the government.

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Guanyu 道 said...

Beyond the red mist surrounding Thaksin

Thitinan Pongsudhirak
25 February 2010

While all eyes in Thailand are focused on what has been touted as a doomsday Constitution Court verdict on former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s frozen billions, the pro-Thaksin, red-shirted United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) is in the midst of another build-up to street protests against the government.

The verdict tomorrow on whether to keep all or some of Thaksin’s vast assets - in large part from the sale of his Shin Corp telecom conglomerate to Temasek Holdings in January 2006 - is partly a foregone conclusion. Thaksin surely will not be acquitted and given back all the money frozen after his overthrow. That would undermine everything that went into his opponents’ military coup in September 2006 and its anti-Thaksin aftermath. Yet keeping all his assets, some from before the time he entered politics, would raise eyebrows and further enrage the red shirts as a gross injustice.

The former leader’s opponents would be misguided to view the red shirts as all about Thaksin. Indeed, the influence of the reds will transcend this verdict.

By the admission of the government spokesman, the UDD red shirts are now prevalent in no fewer than 38 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, predominantly in the populous northeast and north. But the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, its backers in the army and elsewhere, and the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), still do not acknowledge the claims and grievances of the red shirts. The reds are portrayed either as Thaksin’s financial lackeys or ignorant and gullible peasants who cannot see through his manipulative populism.

As Thailand’s latest round of brinkmanship revs up, Thaksin has been mobilising all the resources in his power to whip up red-shirted sentiments. As for his opponents, who hold power in Bangkok, they let hardly a day go by without demonising and trying to intimidate Thaksin and the red shirts. The reds see tomorrow’s verdict as the culmination of a long offensive of injustice since the 2006 coup. Thaksin merely symbolises their quest for social justice and their struggle for democratic rights.

The many who believe the reds will simply splutter and run out of steam when Thaksin’s money supply runs dry are gravely mistaken. The reds have become much more organic and spontaneous than Thaksin himself could have imagined when he was ousted from power.

The pro-Abhisit coalition has been effective at disassembling and marginalising opposing views. But if they cannot see the reds beyond Thaksin and his assets, Thailand will see much more pain and grief.

The challenge for the government now is to eliminate Thaksin for his corruption and abuses of power while accommodating his red columns’ grievances, demands and expectations. Thailand will not see peace until such accommodation takes place.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak is director of the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS), Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. Copyright: OpinionAsia