Michael's Dispatches

Thai Turmoil: Some observations and thoughts

Part 1 of about 10

20 March 2014

Starring: Abhisit, Buddha Issara, Burmese Fortune Teller, Democrats, Farmers, Journalists good and bad, KPT, Men in Black, PDRC, Puea Thai Party, Santi Asoke, Satish Sehgal Suthep, Thai Army, Thai Police, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney, Yellow Shirts, Yingluck, You

image001Abhisit refused amnesty on 12 murder charges

Abhisit Vejjajiva is a former Prime Minister of Thailand.

There is a misconception that Abhisit and I are golf buddies, old pals who go way back.  This is the result of propaganda.  The truth of our relationship is that I took one trip with him to Hat Yai in 2010, just after the intense fighting in Bangkok.  Later when his book The Simple Truth was published, the final two pages were written by me.  Those pages were taken with my permission from Facebook, simply stating that the murder charges against him and his Deputy Prime Minister at the time, Suthep Thaugsuban, are bogus and unjust.

In recent weeks, we have spoken twice privately for approximately three hours total.

That is the extent of our golf buddy days.  We never stepped on a course together.   My repudiation of murder charges against Suthep and Abhisit is not based on friendship, but because I was an eyewitness to the 2010 fighting, and charging the government's leaders in those days with murder offends my sense of justice.

Yet any mention of Abhisit inevitably brings recriminations and accusations, “That murderer!”  Many people making the accusations do not appear to have malice in their hearts, but they have wrong information in their heads.  In other words, good people are making bad judgments based on false information.

The truth of the 2010 fighting is that a small number of Red Shirt protestors were extremely violent.  This requires some explanation.

“Red Shirts” are overwhelmingly peaceful people.  I spend more time with Red Shirts in Northern Thailand than I do with “Yellow Shirts,” Democrats, PDRC or others.  It must be noted that Red Shirts come in many shades of red, and there are divergent beliefs within the red spectrum.

For instance, some Reds are pro-communist.  Others reject communism.  Some Reds are poor while others are rich by any standard.  Some have little education, yet many have PhDs and are world-travelled with homes abroad.  Any attempt to make this current situation a “rich verus poor” or Red versus Yellow dispute falls flat after a scratch test.  No drill is needed to see this – just a scratch, and open eyes.

Members of the anti-Thaksin PDRC include billionaires to paupers to everyone in between.  As example, donations to PDRC have even come from motorbike drivers, who would donate their motorbike and fuel to transport PDRC members.  PDRC is the Peoples’ Democratic Reform Committee, which started from grass roots and immediately pole-vaulted last year to include millions of followers.

image003Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of PDRC, refused amnesty on 12 murder charges. Suthep and Abhisit prefer to face murder charges than to allow Thaksin Shinawatra back into Thailand under the same amnesty bill.

For some Reds, wearing a Thai flag is an offense worthy of death.  Those few are not patriotic.  This must be taken in the context that most Thais are as patriotic as are heartland Americans.  Most Thai people love being Thai.  As one American told me in Afghanistan, Thai people like to go on a picnic together and just be Thai.  And so when a small number of Red Shirts do not like the Thai flag, that is seen how we Americans view Americans who trounce on our flag.  Whatever problems our countries have – which are many – we remain loyal.

I personally know Red Shirts with whom I interact daily in Chiang Mai.  They are as patriotic as anyone, and they love the King.  It is not true that all Reds do not love the King.  This is flatly false.  I go into Red Shirt homes and I see pictures of the Royal Family, and the people will say that they are faithful to His Majesty.  There are many shades of Red.  In fact, some of the Reds that I know talk more like Democrats and Yellow Shirts.  Many have aligned with the Reds due to circumstance or patronage, not through ideology.

If someone characterizes the current protests as a “Yellow shirt versus Red shirt” or a “rich verus poor” dispute, those opinions should be dismissed due to their oversimplification.  In fact, the Yellow Shirts as an organization are conspicuously absent, despite that many Yellow sympathizers are “card carrying” members of other organizations, such as PDRC.

image005Peaceful rice farmers came to Bangkok to protest government failures to pay for their rice.

Another train of thought revolves around the royal succession, a mostly taboo topic in the Kingdom, though many people discuss it privately.  I have never met a Thai who will not talk with me privately about the subject.

The idea that the 2010 fighting, or the ongoing 2013-14 protests, are solely about the royal succession is ludicrous.  I was born American, and Americans are taught from birth to be suspicious of royalty, so it is out of character for me to say that the King of Thailand has been a blessing to Thailand and to humanity in general.  The world could use a few more kings like this, but I think that we are unlikely to see another anytime soon.  The King of Thailand will be historically annotated as one of the most special people of the century.  Enough said.

There is no doubt that the succession is a major background factor, and it may leap to the foreground any day, yet the nature of the 2010 fighting and the current Whistleblower protests are about other matters.

It is important to add that nearly all the violence from the current protests has been directed at the protestors, not derived from them.  The current protestors are overwhelmingly peaceful.  I see them seven days per week.  I am just by the last PDRC camp now, at Lumpini Park.  I can see it out my window.  Any attempt to paint them as violent is false.

Please Standby for Part II, in which we will get serious

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