How Yingluck Is Betraying The Red Shirt Movement

by heavilyarmedsovietspacemonkey

As I’ve already discussed the current protest movement in Thailand and showed its anti-democratic nature, I think it is important to emphasise one more time, that although the red shirt movement itself in its struggle for democracy could be called a progressive force in Thai policy, the same isn’t neccessarily true for the Thaksin-backed government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Regardless of the fact that the Phuea Thai government is without doubt preferable to the dictatorship, which Yingluck and Thaksin’s opponents want to install and which would be equatable with a disenfranchisement of the rural masses, many of Yingluck’s policies should be looked at critically – even if we would ignore the accusations of corruption against her brother. That’s why I want to cite an excerpt from an article by Oliver Pye, which has been published in the German left-wing weekly Jungle World. In this article Pye does not only stress the anti-democratic sentiments of the opposition, but also talks about how Yingluck is betraying the red shirt movement with her reconciliation and free trade policies:

>>When Yingluck Shinawatra won the election in 2011, the royalist establishment was shocked. Coup, party bans, media censorship, suppression of the red shirt movement and the arrest of their leading members weren’t enough for them and the Democratic Party of Abhisit and Suthep to win the election. Since then Yingluck purposefully pursued a reconciliation policy in order to achieve a deal with the alliance of royal house, military and leading state officials. She continually emphasized her loyalty to the king and had a meeting, which was well-covered by the media, with the hated Prem Tinsulanonda, who has still much influence on the royalists.

In order to push this course through, Yingluck has demobilized her own supporters, the red shirts. To this day, several red shirts remain in prison. Instead of seizing on the republican sentiments among red shirts so as to constrain the power of the royalists, the article 112 of the constitution, the lèse-majesté law, remains untouched and is still used in order to censor online discussions. And worst of all is the notion that the people responsible for the massacre against red shirts, Abhisist and Suthep, could benefit from the amnesty. Many red shirts feel betrayed by Yingluck.

But this course of action is corresponding with the populism of the Thaksin clan. Whose members appeal to the poor with progressive programmes in order to expand their power as superrich, and use the red shirt movement as pawns for political manoeuvres to improve their negotiating position vis-à-vis the old-established elites. There is also the fact that the economic project of Yingluck and Thaksin – capitalism with accompanying Keynesianism – still leads to social conflicts. The recipe for the agriculture, to transform subsistence farmers into capitalist entrepreneurs, has brought much prosperity into the rural regions at the expense of migrant workers. But it also makes farmers dependent on the price fluctuations of the world market. In order to protect rice farmers from this, Yingluck has introduced a system of price guarantee and has bought up the rice at fixed prices. Rubber farmers, who are demanding similar price guarantees,  have recently blocked all roads in the south of the country for days.

The negotiations with the EU about a free trade agreement lead to new protests as well. The agreement is promising new markets for corporations of the Thaksin camp, but would also involve an aggravated patent law, which would include, among other things, antiretroviral medication, which is of vital importance for the many AIDS patients in Thailand. The free trade policy, thereby, is undermining on of the most important social achievements of the Thaksin regime: The tax-funded healthcare system for all. […]

Simultaneously, those among the red shirts, who want to emancipate themselves from Thaksin and the governing Phuea Thai party, are gaining strength. They criticise that grassroot members would be sacrificed in order to serve the interests of the Shinawatra clan. In November thousands have followed the call of a faction of Sombat Boonngamanong and protested against the amnesty for the people responsible for the murders of 2010. Sombat is now speaking of founding his own red shirt party. This could be a step towards a republican grassroots movement, which positions itself against the monarchy and for democratic reforms independently from the Thaksin clan.<<

I should add that I have some issues with Pye’s characterisation of the red shirt movement as tendecially republican (though it’s true that there is at last a minority of red shirts who are self-proclaimed republicans). For one thing, it is generally accepted that Thailand’s current king is quite popular among Thais, opponents of the current government as well as its supporters, and for another thing, the yellow shirts, including the former unelected government, which was responsible for the bloody military crackdown of the democracy movement in 2010, have accused the red shirts of having republican sentiments in order to discredit them, and, therefore, I think it is hard to judge how strong republican tendencies among red shirts really are. Furthermore, as much as I hope myself that the ongoing politicisation process of the rural poor will someday end with the red shirt movement getting rid of Thaksin and his cronies as well, I’ve got the impression that Pye might be a bit too optimistic about the possibility of a complete emancipation of the red shirts from Thaksin, although I agree that there are definitively developments, which point in this direction, it’s still too soon to tell.