The 7 Most Stupid Comments About The Current Protests In Thailand
It’s a widespread fallacy to assume that every mass protest is automatically progressive or democratic. The current protests in Thailand are a good example for that. What we can see in Thailand right now is the latest attempt of one political camp, the so-called yellow shirts, which mostly consists of Bangkok’s upper and middle class, to overthrow a democratically elected government in a political conflict, which goes on since the military coup in 2006 against then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Despite the fact that the yellow shirts couldn’t win a single election since the coup, while Thaksin-backed parties have received and continue to receive overwhelming support from the rural poor, sympathies among westerners for the yellow shirts seem to be quite persistent. That’s why you won’t be able to avoid reading a lot of nonsense, uninformed statements and sometimes even outright lies as soon as you bother to read the internet discussions on this topic. In this blog post I intend to show the anti-democratic nature of the current anti-government protests by refuting the 7 most stupid comments I’ve come across. Because I don’t want to attack anyone personally, I’ll paraphrase the comments instead of citing actual examples.
I probably should add that when I speak of stupid comments, I’m just speaking about the comment itself. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the author of such comments is stupid as well. Everybody, including me, says stupid things sometimes, because he or she doesn’t know it better. So if you recognize some of the paraphrased comments as your own, please, don’t take it too personal. Besides, if after reading this blog post you’re still not convinced that the comments in question are as stupid as I claim, then you’re welcome to express your criticism in the comment section.
1. The current protests in Thailand are an example of the people revolting against an authoritarian government.
As I’ve mentioned above, the red shirts have won every single election since the military coup in 2006 (which have been hold in 2007 and 2011), the yellow shirts have only been able to seize power by a military or judicial coup. And when the yellow shirts were in power, they’ve used nothing short of brutal force to oppress demonstrations of the democracy movement. During the military crackdown of the protests in 2010 79 civilians have lost their life, most of them protesting red shirts. But even more importantly, the yellow shirts are this time openly calling for a new dictatorship and the final disenfranchisement of the rural majority:
>>The demonstrators want to replace Yingluck’s popularly elected government with an unelected “people’s council,” but they have been vague about what that means. Because Yingluck’s party has overwhelming electoral support from the country’s rural majority, which benefited from Thaksin’s populist programs, the protesters want to change the country’s political system to a less democratic one where the educated and well-connected would have a greater say than directly elected lawmakers.<<
They’re not demanding new elections, because they know that they would most likely lose such elections just as they’ve lost the two elections before. Their protest isn’t about achieving or protecting democracy but quite the opposite. They despise real democracy just as much as they despise the poor farmer, who dares to want to have a say about his country’s future.
2. The current protests are about oustering the corrupt elements In Thai policy.
As I’ve already explained in point No. 1, these protests are not about forcing the current government to resign in order to make new elections possible but to replace it with an unelected council, which only consists of Bangkok elites and yellow shirts. Furthermore, one of the main leaders of the protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, doesn’t really have a clean slate himself. These people are not protesting corruption inside the democratic system but democracy itself.
Some might insist that the Thai democracy isn’t well-functioning, because corrupt politicians like Thaksin are still popular despite their misconduct and therefore a temporary dictatorship would be necessary and justified to cleanse Thai policy from corruption before democracy can be re-established. Although such statement is much more honest (but still utterly naive), it is also inherently anti-democratic. Even if we assume that Thaksin and his sister, the current PM, are really as corrupt as portrayed by the opposition, this still wouldn’t change the fact that the current government has been democratically elected and is still supported by the majority of Thais. A corrupt democracy is still preferable to an allegedly clean dictatorship (though I seriously doubt that something like this could exist), because, corrupt or not, a government, which hasn’t been elected by the people, or, in an even worse case, has also replaced a democratically elected government by a coup, has no legitimacy at all. As a democrat (not the party) I just can’t and won’t follow you in this line of thought.
3. The current government has no legitimacy because it has only won the last elections by buying votes. / The red shirts protesting (against the yellow shirts) in Bangkok have been paid to do so by Thaksin and his cronies.
As far as I know, there is no proof at all for massive vote-buying by the red shirt camp during the last election or the election before. And as matter of fact, every time somebody in a discussion makes such claim, he’s not likely to going to substantiate his allegations with actual facts but is instead going to pretend that this is some accepted truth. An argument, which comes often along with this one, is that the red shirts are not showing their support for the government because of their own conviction but because they have been paid by Thaksin and his cronies. The original source for this claim seems to be a speech, which Thaksin has given through a video phone in 2009. A translation for the part of the speech in question has been provided by Jotman in his blog:
>>If (they) return democracy to the people, and return a democratic constitution (to the people), then whoever is in the government, I’m ready to give advice. But if you people want me back to do the job, then I’m ready to serve you. I’m ready to work hard at the age of sixty. And you don’t need to go to queue up for 500 baht. Brother and sister, those people who use to receive the edible fruits of democracy during the Thai Rak Thai administration when I was prime minister[…]<<
If we can trust the quality of this translation, then this doesn’t really seem convincing regarding the allegations made by Thaksin’s opponents. To be frank, this part of the speech does seem to lack some serious context in order to understand what Thaksin has actually said here. And as matter of fact, some people point out, that it is more likely that Thaksin is actually referring to a social assistance plan for the senior citizens:
>>People will interpret the statement differently, but to BP he was referring to the government assistance programs particularly in light of the very long queues for the 2,000 baht handout. There is a separate 500 baht assistance plan for the elderly too.<<
Furthermore, can the passion shown by the red shirts in their struggle for democracy really be explained satisfactorily by the theory that they just have been paid to protest? Remember, people have died in their uprising against the dictatorship in 2010. If you seriously and impartially think about this, you can’t help to realize the absurdity of such allegations.
In my opinion, these allegations seem to be a manifestation of the contempt of Bangkok’s upper and middle class for the rural masses, who are still loyal to Thaksin until this day. Because what they’re actually saying with such allegations is that the red shirts, the poor farmers from the northern part of country, do not have the sufficient political maturity to vote. For them the typical red shirt just lacks the necessary education and responsibility and is, therefore, unfit to have a say in the democratic process. That’s class prejudice par excellence.
4. The current conflict in Thai policy is not one about rich vs. poor.
Yes, Thaksin and most of his allies in Thai policy can hardly be called social revolutionaries and it is obvious that they do represent one group of Thailand’s elites, which just wants to break the dominance of Bangkok’s old guard. But even knowing this you can’t get around the fact that the red shirts mostly consist of the rural masses from northern Thailand (and, if we can believe Wikipedia here, even of urban lower classes from Bangkok) and that they and their support alone are the reason why Thaksin is still relevant in Thai policy until today, while their opponents, who want to overthrow the current government, represent Bangkok’s upper and middle class. If you dismiss the idea of the current conflict as a class conflict, because you think that Thaksin is just using the rural masses to gain his own personal and selfish goals, then you are just blatantly ignoring that the reason for Thaksin’s popularity were his policies to support the poor and rural majority of Thais, as for example making health care more affordable and supporting farmers with small loans. The military coup against Thaksin in 2006 as well as the judicial coup in 2008 were insofar acts of a class war against the rural poor as their decision expressed in democratic elections has been disregarded and, therefore, a whole class of Thailand’s population has been disenfranchised. In other words: The rural poor have been excluded from Thailand’s political system in order to enforce the interests of a by comparison wealthy minority. Furthermore, the yellow shirts can only hope to hold on to power after another coup, if they succeed in disenfranchising the rural class permanently.
Ironically, at least some anti-government protestors are much more honest about this aspect of the current political conflict than their apologists:
>>Many anti-government protesters draw a distinction between themselves and the poor who are fiercely loyal to Thaksin.
“We are rich and our children are educated in Bangkok,” said Nonthapan Suwananon, an anti-government protestor who manages an office. “They are poor, uneducated and have been bought out by Thaksin and his lot.”<<
5. The red shirts are just as violent/much more violent than the yellow shirts.
This argument is basically trying to justify or relativize the violent tactics of the current protests, wich are aiming to destabilize the political situation in order to trigger another military coup, as well as to vilify the pro-government red shirts. In order to justify such claims people usually refer to the red shirts protests in 2010, when the violent clashes between the army and protestors have caused a lot of destruction in Bangkok’s inner city. This is quite cynical considering that most of the victims of these clashes were actually protesting red shirts, as I’ve already mentioned in point No. 1. It is also worth mentioning that the military crackdown has been authorized by none other than Suthep Thaugsuban, the main leader of the current protests, who was deputy prime minister back then. Moreover, violence by protesting red shirts in 2010 and anti-government protesters now is hardly comparable, because there is a huge difference between violence used in order to overthrow a dictatorship and to re-establish democracy and violence used in order to overthrow a democratically elected government and to install a dictatorship instead.
This, of course, doesn’t apply to the tragic events of last Saturday, when allegedly four students have been shot in a clash between red shirts and anti-government protestors, though it should be said that these clashes have been started by yellow shirts attacking buses and cars with red shirt protestors inside.
6. The current protest movement and the yellow shirts from anti-government protests before are not identical.
Although it is true that protestors in Bangkok seem to wear mostly black shirts (when I use the term “yellow shirts” I refer to the political camp as such regardless of the changes in its current dress code), if you look at the photos of the protests thoroughly you will see that they still use a lot of the colour yellow to identify themselves (as for example here). Furthermore, the current protest movement has the same goals, the same leaders and the same contempt for the rural masses as the yellow shirts before. They actually seem to be pretty much identical and as long as I don’t see anything what sets the current protest movement apart from the yellow shirts I don’t see why we shouldn’t assume that this is still the very same political camp, which is attacking Thai democracy since 2006.
7. The unelected “people’s council”, which the anti-government protesters want to install, wouldn’t be a dictatorship, because it would be only an interim government.
A temporary dictatorship is still a dictatorship. Period. Besides, as I’ve said in point No. 4, the yellow shirts can only hope to hold on to power after a coup if they disenfranchise the rural population permanently.