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Reds back from the maquis?

It appears that most so-called “softer head” (หัวอ่อน) hard-core leaders on the run since last year are returning back home accepting a new compact with the amaat regime which they took a stand against since events following 19 September 2006. This compact was enabled through the “electoral” UDD group, involving no doubt some interesting conversations with various stakeholders both at home and, importantly, abroad, and of course certain higher powers.

The masses, many of whom were starting to become awakened/ “eyes opened” since 13 October 2008, may feel a little let down right now and asking themselves what was all the suffering and the loss of life for in April and May 2010? In particular, the red shirt protests starting on 12 March 2010 gave the masses a (Gramscian) sense of “theoretical consciousness”; of being creators of new kind of Siamese historical and institutional values around a discourse on democracy. No one can go back. All the while the UDD acting leader/s moved between the bimonthly stages in the capital and in trying to secure the release of the three “Truth Today” (“ความจริงวันนี้”) core activists and the four other red shirt leaders. The core leaders initially (and in retrospect naively) thought that by surrendering they would be immediately released on bail!

UDD, which claims to be a mass social movement, entered into de facto support for the current regime’s electoral program established under specified terms and conditions imposed on them. This may be a strategy with hidden ramifications. UDD needs to think about two scenarios:

1. Phue Thai Party are able to win the elections, as one would expect given the numbers (if the elections are fair) and, not dissimilar to Nepal, successfully change the puppet government but not change the regime – that is the entrenched dominant elite system and the 2007 constitution. This is a repeat of recent post-electoral events some years back where a certain elected government won (twice), but could not actually govern because the amaat regime would not allow that to happen!

2. Phue Thai Party lose the elections and thus red shirts aligned so closely with Phue Thai Party’s fate also lose their foundation and legitimacy among devotees at home and abroad (all the eggs placed in one basket). Playing a political game where the rules are controlled entirely by others carries risks.

This means UDD must talk to other red shirt groups who are seeking a direct democracy revolutionary route. These groups in turn should take up Nuttawut’s offer to the masses for talking, made on stage on Saturday 12 March. UDD need a fallback position with the election route they have chosen. It is clear that it will not be a win-win as something has to give. They are of course playing a game with the same regime which they have so ardently fought against over the past five years. It may start to look a little like a post-October 1976 affair; when the Prime Ministerial Order No 66/23 was issued four years later as many liberal activists and former CPT members returned from the maquis having been conferred amnesty and co-opted into the bosom of the nation-state; some remaining (metaphorically speaking) under Prem’s teat; then of course going on to become modern defenders of the amaat regime that swept them out the back door in the first place: So much for seeking regime change! Many of these individuals became the hardcore of the yellow-shirts.

There are some elements among the red shirts, such as the new western alliance groups and many existing and new configurations now calling themselves “Red Free People” (แดงเสรีชน, that is, they are not attached to any mass movement/UDD) emerging from the confusion; situated both inside and outside the country. These red shirts are unambiguously on the democratic revolutionary route and they are not willing to concede quite so agreeably to what they see as a hopelessly corrupted system of law and governance. They now focus their demonstrations on a single issue: Article 112 of the Criminal Code used as a political tool by the regime. They also hope that UDD will work with them, or at least that they do not obstruct them. In fact it is clear UDD will not touch 112.

Did the UDD’s core leaders have any choice? It would seem, if vigorous backroom discussions are anything to go by, that they were forced into a compact with the regime as a condition of their release; or under subtle coercion and possibly some not-so-subtle intimidation directed against them and their families. Never forget that there is always the unscrupulous judiciary and so-called “independent” state bodies that can deal the cards anyway-anyhow; and a military machinery poised anxiously in the metropolis waiting to make its move. All these amaat institutions are ever happy to manipulate an outcome if things don’t go according to plans.

Many red shirts may find it easier simply to go along with UDD’s electoral direction and wait for the outcome. At that point, if this is not to the liking of the masses because of elite electoral shenanigans, as told to me, people who are already networked can rise-up and take matters into their own hands. As we saw Saturday 12 March, red shirts from the many interest groups, central and regional, may continue to join together on the streets and not have to rely on a situation where a single mass “stage” dominates other smaller specific interest groups. All these groups have both a general and a specific audience. Meanwhile let’s keep in mind the sacrifices of some who are victims of political skulduggery and remain in prison under 112 or in exile simply because they actually have a real political consciousness and an ideology based on freedom, equality and rights that cannot be comprised. In the end, I guess the choice lies with the masses and their leaders as to which route they want to take; assuming of course that they want to see regime change and democracy established in this lifetime.

(revised by the author as of 13 March 2011, 4.50 pm)

Dr Jim Taylor
Senior Lecturer in Anthropology,
Discipline of Anthropology & Development Studies
School of Social Sciences,
The University of Adelaide
AUSTRALIA