ฝรั่งมองวันที่ ๑๓ ม.ค. ๕๗

ฝรั่งมองวันที่ ๑๓ ม.ค. ๕๗

             ผมได้รับ อีเมล์ ส่งข้อเขียนของ Ralph Klintberg จาก Edmonton   ซึ่งได้รวบรวมเหตุการณ์การชุมนุมเมื่อวันที่ ๑๓ ม.ค. ๕๗ ไว้    จึงนำมาเผยแพร่ต่อ

 

January 13, 2014

Thailand on the March

Ralph Klintberg

 

In late 2013 a marathon session of the Thai Parliament, which lasted until 4 o'clock in the morning, passed two pieces of legislation which infuriated not only the opposition parties but also mobilized Thai citizens to react. One piece of legislation offered amnesty to self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who fled the country several years ago after being found guilty of crimes against the county. It could also be interpreted to include amnesty to current government members including the Prime Minister who are being charged with crimes connected to the rice-pledging scheme which is discussed later. The Senate refused to accept the amnesty bill. The second bill made key constitutional changes which were later struck down by the Constitutional Court. The government, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of the self-exiled Prime Minister, refused to accept the ruling of the Constitutional Court.

 

Within days a new movement, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, was formed. The first anti-government rally in Bangkok garnered a million and a half demonstrators (the Thai press reported double that number). Regardless, it was the largest ever political demonstration ever staged in the world. At this point, the demonstrators were characterized as Yellow Shirts - the elite, educated, middle class of Bangkok also deemed to be monarchists. While the Yellow Shirts may have been in the majority there were also ordinary citizens from across Thailand who were fed up with the corrupt practices and mismanagement that have long permeated Thai politics.

 

The demonstrators demanded that the government resign and that a broadly based Reform Committee be formed to address and resolve the endemic corruption issues. Yingluck reacted by dissolving Parliament and setting February 2, 2014 as election day. Yingluck chose this course knowing that her support base, the rural poor from the north and east of Thailand would re-elect her and her party, Peu Thai, with a majority government. The main opposition party reacted by refusing to field candidates. The Shinawatra power base has been the rural poor, who have shown their support by wearing red shirts. The Red Shirts have been portrayed as poor, uneducated farmers who are also anti-monarchists.

 

Yellow and red are broad brushstrokes used by the media and politicians to characterize and demean opponents. Reality is more complicated. While the Yellow Shirts may represent the rich, educated middle class of Bangkok they also have the support of many average citizens throughout the country. Likewise the bulk of the support for Red Shirts can be found in the rural poor but they also have the support of many wealthy Thais and are certainly not all anti-monarchists. However, the Red Shirt movement has been financially supported and manipulated by powerful wealthy forces, most notably Thaksin who provided extensive funding for the 2010 uprising which culminated in the burning down of central Bangkok. The preceding is but a brief overview of the complexity of the various factions and players in the current situation.

 

What is important is that Suthep's anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) has attracted supporters from all factions at the January 13 demonstrations which have seven rally sites that are the bases for marches on various government buildings. The purpose is to paralyze Bangkok, force the government to delay the election and allow a reform committee to resolve a variety of issues regarding corruption and governance. Red Shirts have joined Yellow Shirts on the various podiums as have speakers with 'no colour'.

 

 

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Meanwhile Red Shirts and pro-government supporters, known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have been rallying in various centres throughout the country with the intent of preventing demonstrators from attending the PRDC demonstrations.

 

So why might the PRDC achieve some or maybe even all of its objectives?

 

First, the Elections Committee has petitioned the Government to delay the election for a variety of reasons. PRDC supporters have blocked many of the candidate registration stations resulting in 28 constituencies having no candidates with a further 16 in which there is only one candidate to vote for. Also, given the volatility of the situation, the Election Committee is having problems finding election personnel to work at balloting stations. Furthermore, the Committee contends that it does not have sufficient funds to run the election.

 

The government is in financial straits. This is the result of a plan which exempted first-time car buyers from taxes and a hugely expensive rice-pledging scheme in which the government paid rice farmers more than world price for their product. The results of the rice-pledging have been devastating. The program was rife with corruption and Thailand, long a leader in world rice exports, can no longer sell this mainstay of the economy in international markets. Worse, rice lies rotting and mouldering in warehouses. As for the farmers, the government cannot pay them for the current rice-pledging which has been delivered. Last year in an effort to pay the farmers the government floated a bond issue, only half of which was sold and this year have been hoping to raise money in a similar fashion but have been advised that it would probably be a debacle. The Department of Agriculture has a bank but it has refused to allocate any of its money to paying the farmers. The result has been angry farmers who have demonstrated in rural areas and may also explain why Red Shirts are marching side by side with Yellow Shirts and others in today's demonstration.

 

And there is an overriding reason why the government may finally listen to the People's Democratic Reform Committee. For the first time in Thai history massive numbers of people from all walks of life have joined together to vent their displeasure with the corrupt political system. Previously university students or factions such as the Red and Yellow Shirts have demonstrated with obvious vested interests. Such groups were easily marginalized by governments of the day. Often the military staged a coup and, politics went on as usual. Currently the military has refused to take sides even though the Prime Minister has requested their support in controlling the PRDC.

 

The PRDC intends to continue its “Block Bangkok, Restart Thailand” strategy. Whether it can sustain financial and people support remains to be seen. This plan may also have huge economic repercussions for the country and may also then be the trigger for military intervention. Whatever happens, Thai politics will be tremendously interesting in the coming days and months.

 

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