I have a remarkable knack for bad timing. Less than 24 hours after I create a blog to follow the political situation in Thailand, the Red leaders surrender themselves to the police! Even the hardcore leaders – Jatuporn Prompan, Natthawut Saikua, Weng Tojirakarn – have turned themselves into the authorities.
The Bangkok Post quotes Prompan telling his followers, “I apologise to you all, but I don’t want any more losses. I am devastated too. We will surrender.”
It also reports, “He also announced the ending of the anti-government protest.”
This strikes me as amazing, because only a few days ago these men were adamant in their refusal to surrender. Why the sudden change of heart?
As I write this, a friend from Bangkok is relaying the aftermath of the event. Apparently, a host of Red Shirt demonstrators – displeased by their leaders’ decision – have gone berserk in the city streets. According to her, they’ve launched an M79 into Central World, a massive luxury shopping mall near the protest grounds, and are trying to set the building on fire.
This is in keeping with other news reports, including one from Yahoo News, which says protesters have set fires in several areas of Bangkok. I’d like to point out that this article focuses on the government’s use of force against the protesters and the resultant violence. And yet, I don’t understand why the Reds can set fire to buildings and, for some reason, they’re not criticized for their use of force.
This actually belongs to a broader trend I’ve noticed in the Western media to sympathize with the Red Shirt protesters as the “underdog” maligned by an oppressive state. One comment on the Yahoo page even says, “I’m proud of the Thai people for trying to fight for their rights.”
Excuse me, the Red Shirts do not equal “the Thai people.” They are a group of people in Thailand who have their own take on politics and have chosen to demonstrate about them. Many of their concerns are, in fact, quite valid. But the fact of the matter is that, for the past month and a half, they have held the city of Bangkok hostage. In their defiance of the government, they’ve also disregarded the rights of their fellow citizens by paralyzing the city and using their physical presence to antagonize government and security forces. While it must be said the Yellow Shirts used similar tactics before – though without the violence that has characterized the Red demonstrations – there is no reason the Red Shirts had to follow their example. Plus, the “nonviolent” nature of their demonstrations fell on shaky ground weeks ago with their threat to invade Mahidol University campus and, later, by their shameful infiltration of Chulalongkorn Hospital – an act which, I observed, was mostly unnoticed by Western newsources.
I’m not saying I completely agree with the government’s handling of the situation – it leaves much to be desired – but I am calling for fairer news coverage, especially reports that make clear the Red Shirts are in not the voice of all Thai people. As I write this, I’m being bombarded by messages and Facebook updates from friends in Thailand who are at once relieved at the Red leaders’ surrender, as well as terrified for their own lives as Red protesters take revenge on the capital city. I would like to hear more from common people like them in media coverage, instead of reports that pit the Red Shirts against the government without a third or fourth perspective.
I know that when I wake up tomorrow, there’ll be reports of mass wreckage throughout Bangkok and the surrounding areas. But beyond that, I have no idea what to expect. While I believe the surrender of these major Red leaders is a groundbreaking development, I don’t think things will end quite so easily. After the smoke clears and their initial outrage burns itself out, the remaining Reds might be leaderless – but for how long? As another of my friends points out, one of their number – Arisman – is missing. And, as always, there are certain people out there capable of funding reviving the Red movement. This may indeed prove merely a minor setback for them. But for now, despite what foreign media might say about the government’s management of the situation, I know that I and many other Thais will breathe a sigh of relief for what is hopefully a step towards normalcy.
I’ve had a lot of to work with since I started this blog yesterday. I sincerely hope that I will run out of material soon – that my knack for bad timing will coincide with the return of peace to Thailand.
Friends in Bangkok, please be careful. In fact, if possible, I think you all should leave Bangkok and head upcountry. I hear that, with the drastic drop in tourist arrivals, beach resorts are offering amazing deals. I think we could all use a vacation. 🙂