Surachart Bamrungsuk, political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, wrote about the red shirts’ movement in his column in Matichon Weekly, Apr 24, 2009.
Surachart says the crushing of the red-shirts by military force was not unexpected. And such use of force was not the result of the collapse of the ASEAN Summit, but was due to the fact that the red shirts politically and socially pose a threat to the middle-class and the elite.
The growth in numbers of the red shirts is an issue that should be considered. And the red-shirts’ movement means much more than just Thaksin fever.
In his opinion, the red shirts’ movement consists of the following components:
Thaksin’s supporters. The growth of the red shirt movement is undeniably based on groups of Thaksin’s supporters, who perceive that since the coup in 2006, Thaksin has been politically persecuted and mistreated.
The sentiment has grown out of the continuing use of political and legal means to get rid of the Thai Rak Thai party and its successors. These are mostly people in the countryside, and they are willing to join the demonstrations to support Thaksin, with or without pay.
Beneficiaries of populist policies. Although apparently one and the same as the first group, Surachart distinguishes this group as the lower class who directly benefited from the populist policies of the Thai Rak Thai Party. The Thaksin administration’s populist schemes were really a new phenomenon; policies did get implemented and delivered straight to the lower class. The poor who have been disregarded have become a strong political force.
Anti-authoritarian activists. The successful 2006 coup showed the achievement of an anti-politics ideology, which contains extreme resentment against immoral and corrupt politicians and electoral system. This ideology has been vociferously propagandized since mid 2004, and has been adopted by elements of former democracy advocates in the 1990s including the urban middle class, intellectuals, the media and NGOs, who have transformed themselves into conservative forces and coup supporters in 2000s.
However, some of the middle class, intellectuals, media and NGOs who are against the coup have still remained, though in much smaller numbers and still ‘non-mainstream’. They reject the elite’s interference in politics behind the scenes, and support the red-shirts’ movement. It is likely that there will be more red-shirted middle class members coming out, as the military suppression of the red shirts’ rallies showed that there are double standards.
The red shirts, despite their large crowds, could not achieve critical mass as their yellow-shirted counterparts have done, because they lacked support from conservative state mechanisms.
The yellow-shirts achieved critical mass when judicial power dissolved the Thai Rak Thai Party and the PPP, removed Samak Sundaravej from office and gave the yellow-shirts legal protection. Independent bodies and organizations also took sides when they condemned the dispersal of yellow shirts’ demonstrations with tear gas as a human rights violation, but are not concerned when the Democrat-led government ordered a crackdown on the red shirts.
Surachart says that leaders of the red shirts were incapable of controlling their crowds, letting some elements turn to violence, and eventually they were perceived negatively by the middle class and the media.
He says the Democrat-led government did not come to power through normal means; it was born out of legal double standards and conservative forces.
The growth of the red shirts’ movement is a reaction to what has happened since the coup in 2006, which culminated in the success of installing the Democrat-led government.
In the bloody Songkran, what the media and middle class in Bangkok did could be considered giving a license to kill to the government, although such military action had been a taboo since 1992.
Though the red shirt uprising was defeated in this first round, the aristocratic forces have been exposed and weakened, and at the same time Thaksin has lost considerable credibility.
That should benefit the democracy movement in the future.