Matt Pratten

Matt Pratten

Associate Analyst

21/09/2017

21/09/2017

Fortnightly Snapshot: Thailand's Red and Yellow Shirts


Topics Area – Campaign and Protest Groups
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
When the 2018 election occurs in Thailand, both these campaign groups will have a major impact on how the conduct of the election occurs and whether the transition back to democracy is smooth or not. Even if both groups get their wishes in having those behind the 2008 and 2010 crackdowns convicted and imprisoned, both these groups have deep seated animosity towards their political opponents and each other. This animosity will POSSIBLY see political protests carried out that will threaten not just the conduct of the election but could POSSIBLY see the country remain under military rule due to instability they cause POSSIBLY being able to shut the country down through occupations of government buildings and occupation of airports.
INTRODUCTION
On 04 SEP 2017, former co-leader and spokesman of the now-defunct People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), Parnthep Pourpongpan – pictured below – provided a statement to Thai media warning of the possible return of yellow shirts if justice is not served in a case concerning the acquittal of former Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat – pictured below – and others involved in the 2008 crackdown on PAD members in Bangkok (McCabe and Harrington, 2017).
(Click on above image to expand)
COMMENT. Thailand’s Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions on 02 AUG 2017 cleared former Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, his deputy Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, and then-national police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwon, of dereliction of duty and then-metropolitan police commander Suchart Mueankaew of malfeasance in the 2008 crackdown (McCabe and Harrington, 2017). COMMENT ENDS.
On 31 AUG 2017, a spokesman for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) provided a statement to the media of its intention to press on with having charges against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva – pictured above – and his then-deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, for the crackdown on UDD members in 2010. This statement came in the wake of the Thailand Supreme Court dismissing the charges of murder and attempted murder laid against him (McCabe and Harrington, 2017).
The contexts of both acquittals indicate these groups have been responsible for periods of unrest in the country, often conducting protests which have required the government at the time of their protests to authorise heavy handed crackdowns to put a stop to their activities or have even led to military coups to be carried out. With Thailand expected to hold elections in the later part of next year (Pratten, 2017b), both these groups will feature in the conduct of the election and chances of political and social stability in Thailand afterwards.
This Snapshot Report aims to very briefly outline who both these campaign/protest groups are in the context of Thai politics, their major issue areas, significant events and assess what impact these groups will have when the elections occur and Thailand’s return to democracy.
UNITED FRONT FOR DEMOCRACY AGAINST DICTATORSHIP – UDD – THE RED SHIRTS
Nicknamed the ‘Red-Shirts,’ the UDD is a populist movement drawn from rural dwellers and farmers as well as students, left-wing activists and some business people who see attempts by the urban and military elite to control Thai politics as a threat to democracy. Their emergence and reason for existence stems from former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai party – Thais Love Thais party – whose policies around healthcare, education and economics gained the support of these people and secured his election as Prime Minister in 2001 (BBC News, 2012, Keyes and Keyes, 2017).
However, Thaksin’s conduct as Prime Minister began to anger many in the military, the royal family and the urban middle class in Bangkok. This anger led to Thaksin being ousted in a September 2006 military coup after it was discovered Thaksin had used his powers as Prime Minister to financially benefit members of his family without incurring any taxes. This occurred despite Thaksin’s immense popularity that enabled him to win an absolute majority at the 2005 election; the first time such an electoral victory had occurred in Thailand. Given that he was overseas at the time of the coup, Thaksin went into exile and used his immense wealth and family connections to continue his involvement in Thai politics through re-incarnations of the Thai Rak Thai party dominated by the Shinawatra family; such as the People’s Power Party and the more recent Pheu Thai Party with his sister Yingluck as Prime Minister. These parties continued to enjoy the support that Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party had gained (Keyes and Keyes, 2017).
It wasn’t until 2009 that the Red Shirts became formalised as the UDD after court rulings and protests saw governments supported by rural voters fall, prompting them to carry out their own protests. These protests included:
March 2009 – a series of sit-ins outside government offices. April 2009 – they forced the cancellation of the ASEAN summit after storming the into venue in Pattaya. Violence then erupted in Bangkok with clashes involving troops, protesters and Bangkok residents left at least two people dead and dozens hurt (BBC News, 2012, McCabe and Harrington, 2017).
March 2010 – Red Shirts carried out fresh protests in Bangkok aimed at toppling the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. Numerous Red Shirts members occupied Bangkok's historic and commercial districts and at one point stormed parliament, forcing MPs to flee. Red-shirts also stormed a satellite transmission base, in a bid to restart a television station which had been shut down by the government. 10 April 2010 – the continuing protests saw four soldiers and 17 protesters killed in clashes as the army tried to disperse the Red-Shirts from one of their two bases in Bangkok. The Red Shirts were able to regroup and continue their shutdown of Bangkok. 19 May 2010 – troops moved in on the Red-Shirts. By the end of the day, the camp had been cleared, several of the group's leaders arrested and dozens of people, including protesters and soldiers, killed.
COMMENT. The deaths of Red Shirts members in the 2010 protests are what former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva was cleared from recently. COMMENT ENDS.
These crackdowns and actions against governments voted in by Red Shirts supporters have no doubt left a deep feeling of animosity amongst the Red Shirts and supporters of the Shinawatra family. The most recent example of this attitude were the views amongst this group towards the trial of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra; who like her older brother Thaksin fled the country to avoid imprisonment. Many supporters of Yingluck and her Pheu Thai Party saw the trial and charges against her as another effort to undermine the power of the Pheu Thai Party and its rural voting base. In addition, there has even been one UDD member carry out a series of bomb attacks across Bangkok due to his hatred of the military; one of his targets being a military hospital in Bangkok (Pratten, 2017a).
PEOPLE’S ALLIANCE FOR DEMOCRACY – PAD – THE YELLOW SHIRTS
Nicknamed the ‘Yellow Shirts’ the PAD consists of royalists, ultra-nationalists and Bangkok’s urban middle class. Like the Red Shirts, their origin comes from the emergence of Thaksin Shinawatra in Thai politics. However, the PAD is opposed to Thaksin and his supporters. This group came to existence after controversies revolving around Thaksin’s conduct as Prime Minister came to light. This group drew in those accusing Thaksin of corruption, abuse of power and inadequate loyalty to the monarchy; this reverence for the monarchy also influences their choice of shirt colour – yellow represents the Thai monarchy and its members wear this colour shirt to show their allegiance (BBC News, 2012).
Beginning in 2006, major activities conducted by the group are (BBC News, 2012, McCabe and Harrington, 2017)(The Economist, 2011):
September 2006 – the group was behind the street protests that led to the military coup and ousting of Thaksin Shinawatra. The street protests in Bangkok attracted thousands of people, resulting in the capital shutting down.
May 2008 – claiming the government elected in December 2007 was merely a proxy for Thaksin, the PAD staged sit-ins at government offices. October-November 2008 – again led street protests which saw the removal of the pro-Thaksin government. During this period, the group also occupied government house. The refusal to leave prompted the government of Somchai Wongsawat to order police to remove the PAD from the building, resulting in two members being killed. During this period, the group also staged sit-ins at Bangkok's two airports, shutting down air traffic and crippling the tourism industry. After weeks of pressure, a decision by the constitutional court decision finally achieved the yellow-shirts' goal and saw the pro-Thaksin government banned for electoral misdemeanours. A new Democrat Party government under Abhisit Vejjajiva. January 2011 – a group of about 2,000 began protests against the Abhisit government, accusing it of failing to safeguard Thai sovereignty in a border dispute with Cambodia. June 2011 – the yellow-shirts blocked parliament to postpone debate on a reconciliation bill designed to ease a six-year political crisis, fearing that a proposed amnesty would allow Mr Thaksin's return. They contended that the so-called reconciliation bill would grant amnesty to people guilty of political crimes between 2005-2010, when the country was in crisis. August-September 2017 – Yingluck Shinawatra’s flight from the country before the verdict in her trial has since seen this group allege she was helped by the government, police and military to escape the country.
COMMENT. Both these groups have shown they are capable of causing massive instability in the country and even shutting it down completely to the point where the authorities have to resort to heavy handed tactics to break the impasse caused. The grievances they have towards each other and political opponents – Pheu Thai Party or future Shinawatra aligned parties for the PAD and those aligned with the military and monarchy for the UDD – appear to be deep seated and polarise the standpoints of each side, preventing chances of middle ground being found between the two protest groups.
Currently, Thailand’s laws do not allow political gatherings of 5 or more people to take place due to the instability caused back in 2014 when the Pheu Thai government was ousted in a military coup. These laws have kept both groups from conducting large scale rallies that could result in the same kind of instability that both groups have caused in the past.
However, when the election process begins next year – expected to occur between October-December 2018 – these groups will be able to conduct rallies in some fashion as part of showing support for their respective candidates. For the UDD, it will be whomever takes the lead of the Pheu Thai Party. As for the Yellow Shirts, they do not appear to have a preferred candidate or party at this stage as they turned on former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva. COMMENT ENDS.
ASSESSMENT
When the 2018 election occurs in Thailand, both these campaign groups will have a major impact on how the conduct of the election occurs and whether the transition back to democracy is smooth or not. Even if both groups get their wishes in having those behind the 2008 and 2010 crackdowns convicted and imprisoned, both these groups have deep seated animosity towards their political opponents and each other. This animosity will POSSIBLY see political protests carried out that will threaten not just the conduct of the election but could POSSIBLY see the country remain under military rule due to instability they cause POSSIBLY being able to shut the country down through occupations of government buildings and occupation of airports.
If neither Vejjajiva or Wongsawat are imprisoned from the appeals that are being lodged by the PAD and UDD, their freedom will PROBABLY be another issue that adds to the already intense polarisation of these groups and the political parties they support, making the chances of unrest during the election campaigning PROBABLE.
However, if the election is carried out successfully there is still the chance of instability occurring well after a government is elected and takes power. If the next government is a Pheu Thai Party or future equivalent, the PAD will POSSIBLY carry out large scale protests and use the courts to undermine efforts of this government; especially if any attempts are made to pardon Thaksin and or Yingluck Shinawatra. If the opposite scenario plays out and a government supportive of the military and monarchy is elected, the UDD will POSSIBLY respond with large scale protests like their PAD counterparts. However, where they differ is the UDD will POSSIBLY have among their numbers those who are willing to go their own way and carry out attacks such as bombings across the capital city rather than using the legal system.
References
BBC NEWS. 2012. Profile: Thailand's Reds and Yellows [Online]. London: BBC News. Available: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-13294268 [Accessed 17 September 2017].
KEYES, C. & KEYES, E. J. 2017. Attempts to Institute Populist Democracy - Thaksin Shinawatra [Online]. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available: https://www.britannica.com/place/Thailand/Attempts-to-institute-populist-democracy - ref1075821 [Accessed 17 September 2017].
MCCABE, M. & HARRINGTON, D. 2017. Intelligence Fusion Platform [Online]. London: Ambix. Available: https://www.intelligencefusion.co.uk/ [Accessed 12 August 2017].
PRATTEN, M. 2017a. Thailand Fortnightly Snapshot: Yingluck's Trial - A Flashpoint for Political Violence. Intelligence Fusion [Online]. Available: https://www.intelligencefusion.co.uk/single-post/2017/08/21/Thailand-Fortnightly-Snapshot-Yinglucks-Trial---A-Flashpoint-for-Political-Violence [Accessed 02 Septmeber 2017].
PRATTEN, M. 2017b. Weekly Intelligence Report: Monitoring in Thailand - 18 September 2017. Thailand [Online], 16 September 2017. Available: https://www.intelligencefusion.co.uk/single-post/2017/09/17/Weekly-Intelligence-Report-Monitoring-in-Thailand [Accessed 18 September 2017].
THE ECONOMIST. 2011. Thailand's Yellow Shirts - Eat, Talk, Pray, Revolt. The Economist [Online]. Available: http://www.economist.com/node/18233372 [Accessed 17 September 2017].

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