Soon after Vipar Daomanee, a former Thammasat University lecturer, criticized red-shirt leader Nattawut Sai-gua for his endorsement of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s decision to pay respect to Privy Council President Gen. Prem Tinsulanond, Vipar received a short note from an audience at a symposium she spoke on lese majeste law and prisoner of conscience Somyos Prueksakasemsuk.
Vipar and Pravit at '365 Days of Somyot in Jail', on 29 April 2012 (photo from Thailand Mirror)
The letter, from a person identified as a red shirt, warned Vipar that she can say whatever she likes but she should not sow rift within the red-shirt movement by criticizing Nattawut.
If you are one of those people who feel that a good number of red shirts have not really learnt to appreciate the true value of open criticism, you are not alone.
Perhaps they are not aware, but reds who are intolerant of criticism of Thaksin and of their other leaders are in a way very much similar to ultra-royalists who can bear nothing that is even mildly critical of the monarchy institution.
Years of political polarization means red shirts, as well as ultra-royalists yellow and multi-coloured shirts, think their group alone are absolutely right and so there is no need to take in any from outside or engage in open self-criticism-cum-introspection.
Reds who can’t take criticism or appreciate the value of criticism in a democratic society can’t seriously claim to be fighting for democracy. And if some of these reds do not stop calling themselves fighters for democracy, they will simply be doing a disservice to the notion of democracy itself, which at any rate is already a very loaded term in Thai politics since you can also claim to be staging a military coup for democracy.
Years of each over-exposure to their own political media means to some reds (as well as yellow and multi-coloured shirts) are used to only one-sided news and information about their leaders and movement. They also grew increasingly suspicious of anyone who criticized their leaders, thinking that there must be a deeper reason or conspiracy. This is just like ultra-royalists who believe that those who voiced opposition to the draconian lese majeste law must all be seeking to sow rift in society and part of a conspiracy to overthrow the monarchy - real or imagined.
That’s the danger of over consumption of one-sided information and complete adoration of someone, be it the King, Thaksin or Nattawut.
It is most ironic that these red shirts who can’t bear to listen to criticism of Thaksin and Nattawut would dislike ultra-royalists so much for their fondness of one-sided ‘positive-only’ information about the Thai monarchy.
Could it be that they are so used to adoring someone, so when they no longer adore the King and Queen, they would have to seek to adore someone else like Thaksin instead? By the way, portraits of Thaksin can be found hanging on the walls of a good number of rural red shirts’ homes, that it reminds me of the pictures of the King and Queen.
It’s unclear what percentage of red shirts are intolerant of criticism but it constitutes a serious challenge to the red-shirt movement in particular and Thai society in general.
Thailand can’t afford to have so many political groups being intolerant of criticism if, especially if all of them claim to be wishing for a genuine democracy.
Time and again, I have kept reminding red shirts whom I met that they should be fighting to free themselves and not merely fighting to replace one group of elites with another.
The prospect is not good, however, because I can count only one influential red shirt who is keen on open self-criticism and appreciates the value of criticism against Thaksin and other red leaders. His name is Red Sunday group leader Sombat Boon-ngam-anong, and he once told me when he criticized Thaksin for being bossy about how the Yingluck Shinawatra administration ought to run the country, he was accused by some reds of being an enemy disguising himself as a red shirt. And Sombat is the man who defied the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s emergency decree right after the bloody crackdown ended in May 2010.
Note: Being a co-speaker next to Vipar on the symposium, I seized the opportunity to warn red shirts at the gathering that intolerance is definitely not democratic, unless some of the red shirts in the audience want to be more like ultra-royalists themselves.
Hearing my criticism later on Twitter, well-known host at Voice TV, MR Nattakorn Devakul tweeted to me in English saying: “Most reds I know love bashing Thaksin; in fact, they have a lot of fun doing it and still do especially now with so much backtracking”.
I partly agree, though I think these reds tend to be the so-called ‘progressive reds’ (แดงก้าวหน้า) minority and with the exception of one or two, they mostly confine themselves to criticizing Thaksin or red shirt leaders in private. It’s chillingly similar to nasty gossips on the Thai monarchy that many who called themselves royalists frequently indulge in.