A Chronicle (3 – 14 May 2010)
The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?
On Tuesday night of May 3rd Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced on national television that he would offer the Red Shirts elections on November 14 and a “road map” to a national “reconciliation.” The Thai media would come to call the “reconciliation plan” แผนปรองดอง /phĚEn prOOng dOOng/ and use the original English word “road map” in their reports (โรดแมป, โรดแม็ป or โรดแมพ in Thai, none of which I think quite correctly reflects the English pronunciation: โร้ดแหมบ).
Many headlines on May 4th included such phrases as ปลดล็อควิกฤติ /plòt lÓOk wí-krìt/, “unlock the crisis” or ฝ่าวิกฤติ /fàa wí-krìt/, “break through the crisis.” They gave a very active, positive feeling, even hopeful. (Only the plan didn’t turn out to be a breakthrough after all and the crisis wasn’t so much unlocked but knotted even a bit further.)
Reconciliation – Or So It Was Called
As reported by the Bangkok Post on May 4th “PM proposes Nov 14 poll date”, the five-point reconciliation plan proposed by the PM included the following:
1) The monarchy must not be used as a tool in political conflicts.
2) The country must be reformed by tackling economic disparities and inequality.
3) The media must refrain from reports which exacerbate social or political conflicts.
4) An independent fact-finding panel must be appointed to review fatal incidents involving security forces and protesters [on April 10, 2010].
5) The reconciliation process must be carried out with the cooperation of all sides.*
(*Having read the original Thai explanation given by the PM, I think the emphasis of the last point is rather “To address injustice and unfairness in existing political rules.” See more details as reported in a Thai newspaper คมชัดลึก Kom Chad Luek and the English version of PM’s detailed explanation provided by Ministry of Foreign Affairs here. The Nation gave a slightly different summary when it first reported the PM’s announcement here. I made my own summary of the five-point plan based on the original explanation by the PM, included at the end of the article.)
Though the PM said he had “floated the ideas” and discussed the five objectives above with “many affected parties” as reported in the Bangkok Post, it quickly became clear that he didn’t consult his mentor Chuan Leekpai or his deputy Suthep Thueksuban and other seniors in the Democratic Party. To his credit PM Abhisit went out of character in plotting the road map without them. I conjecture he was hoping to strong-arm them to go along with it. They did – grudgingly. As to whose counsel PM sought in plotting the road map the public has little idea.
In the week following the PM’s announcement, the government called the Red Shirts (echoed by the media and several sectors in society) to enter กระบวนการปรองดองแห่งชาติ /krà-buuan-kaan prOOng dOOng hÈEng châat/, “national reconciliation process” as laid out by the PM. There were rounds of การเจรจา /kaan jee-rá-jaa/, “talk,” “negotiation,” between the government and the Red leaders. All sides, perhaps except those not wishing for peace, were hoping for ข้อยุติ /khÔO yú-tì/, a “resolution,” an “endgame.” But resolution and endgame proved elusive.
The initial reaction to the PM’s “reconciliation” “road map” of the Red Shirts was แบ่งรับแบ่งสู้ /bÈEng ràp bÈEng sûu/, “tentative” or “half receptive, half defensive” as the Thai saying goes. They agreed to enter into the reconciliation process and seemed guardedly receptive to the idea of a set election date. However, while not against กำหนดวันเลือกตั้ง /kam-nòt wan lûeaak-tâng/ “setting an election date,” the Red Shirts felt that it was more important for the PM to กำหนดวันยุบสภา / kam-nòt wan yúp sà-phaa/, “set a date for house dissolution.” It felt to some like a posturing on the Red leaders’ part than making a real bargaining point, considering the Constitution clearly states that elections must be held within 45-60 days after house dissolution. Sure enough, the government came back and said, house dissolution would occur during September 15th and 30th.
The majority in Thai society liked the idea of reconciliation and no more bloodshed. An ABAC Poll asking “What do you think of road map?” returned 61% agree or strongly agree, 15% disagree or strongly disagree, and 24% impassive (no idea) (see more). Luckily, at least three quarters of Thais still have active brains, and one in the unabashed socialist Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s is particularly active. His response to PM’s road map was certainly passionate (and was/is blocked in Thailand), but still accessible here on LINKS: International Journal of Socialist Renewal site.
Spirited and open discussion on the road map was as usual on New Mandala.
Red Supporters felt Red Shirt leaders should not readily take the offer but bargain with Abhisit for a better deal. Among the key things they wanted were:
- Unconditional house dissolution on August 14th
- Lifting Emergency Decree and withdrawing all troops
- Lifting all media censorship (and returning to them their People’s TV (PTV) which had been shut down since early in the crisis)
- Amnesty for all Reds
- A truly neutral fact-finding panel to investigate the April 10 crackdown (See more details.)
It was palpable that the Reds did not trust the government to honor its words. Every other journalist, blogger, facebooker, twitterer, and their third cousin weighed in. Even the US Embassy urged peaceful reconciliation. The loquacious Dr. Weng, one of the Red leaders whose name has become a verb, questioned ความจริงใจ /kwaam jing jai/, “sincerity” of the government.
As for the Yellow (aka Pink and Multicolor) Shirts who have become less shy to show their yellow hue since the reconciliation, the yellower their shirt the more they hated the PM’s offer. A hardcore PAD and son of Sondhi, Jittanart Limthongkul, ridiculed the PM’s “road map” as a “Red Map” (เรดแมป) (see his interview on Manager website). To the yellowest of the Yellow PAD, the PM offered way too much and ostensibly “played into the hand” of the Red Shirts who have been “plotting” for รัฐไทยใหม่/ràt thai mài/, the “New Thai State” which is a republic – as they believe – with Thaksin as president and head of state. Having steadfastly supported Abhisit throughout (and many would say, even installed him in the Government House), the PAD tossed Abhisit under the tuk-tuk unceremoniously, saying he should quit. Posturing or no, it was pretty dramatic and very believable.
While the Red Shirt leaders were struggling to sort things out among themselves, trying to find a unified จุดยืน /jùt yuuen/, “standpoint” (in other words, the doves working on the hawks to come round to their way of thinking to end the protests), the hardliners in the Yellow camp were pressuring the government to end the protests and end it NOW! Prominent leaders such as Chamlong Srimuang who led the 1992 uprising against military dictatorship this time called the government and the military to invoke กฎอัยการศึก /kòt-ai-yá-kaan-sùk/, “martial law” to “end it quickly.” The Yellow Shirts and the government resumed talking of ผู้ก่อการร้าย /phûu kÒO kaan ray/, “terrorists” among the Red Shirts. Some high profile columnists like เปลว สีเงิน (Silver Flame) furiously castigated Abhisit government for being weak and indecisive towards the Red Shirts, leading the way for many commentators and PAD supporters to call the Red Shirts กบฏ /kà-bòt/, “rebels” or “traitors.” Thanong Khanthong of the Nation lambasted Abhisit for saving his own skin and called him “The Great Pretender.”
As the Red Shirts’ position started to swing and sway 3-4 days after the “road map” was announced, the government’s position hardened. PM Abhisit was quoted by the BBC as saying:
“If they don’t go home, I’m not going to dissolve parliament.”
“I repeat, I am not negotiating with anybody … including the protesters.”
My roadmap or the highway?
Amidst loud commotions some faint voices of รักสันติ /rák sǎn-tì/, “peace loving,” civil society groups, activists, NGOs and academics were just barely audible. They seized the PM’s road map and took the opportunity to float around big words like:
ปฏิรูปประเทศ /pà-tì-rûup prà-thêet/, “national reform”
วาระแห่งชาติ /waa-rá hÈEng châat/, “national agenda”
หลักนิติธรรม /làk ní-tì-tham/, “rule of law principle”
นิติรัฐ /ní-tì-rát/, “Rechtsstaat,” “rule of law”
ความเป็นธรรม /khwaam pen tham/, “justice,” “fairness”
ช่องว่างรายได้ /chÔOng wâng raay-dâay/, “income gap”
รัฐสวัสดิการ /rát sà-wàt-dì-kaan/, “welfare state”
ภาคประชาชน /phâak prà-chaa-chon/, “civil society”
การมีส่วนร่วม /kaan mii sàan-rûam/, “participation”
มาตรฐานเดียว /mâat-trà-thǎan diiaw/, “one standard.”
You’d think that the Red Shirts would appreciate these peace-loving folks, at least for what they’re calling for even though they might be boring peaceniks. Unfortunately many Red Shirts seem to have suffered strong affliction of mistrust and anti-intellectualism, and are more than a little disdainful of NGOs and activists. Some went so far as to brand the public intellectuals and social activists อำมาตย์ภาคประชาชน /am-màat phâak prà-chaa-chon/, “civil society aristocrats.”
Rumors and Fantasies
As those interested in the political process of the conflict were holding our breaths on the outcomes of the negotiation and consuming dribbles of news leak from backroom dealings, the majority of Thais were busy feeding on ข่าวลือ /khàaw luue/, “rumors.”
Thaksin was dead!!!!! His (ex-)wife and children were all seen wearing black going to Hong Kong!!!! Thaksin had terminal cancer!!! Thaksin went into a coma while undergoing a chemo therapy!! Thaksin lost all his hair and was wearing a crooked wig and there was a “proof” for it! … So numerous Facebook walls, tweets, email forwards, even newspaper columns (mostly of yellowish tinge) would have the Thai people believe. The “independent” “newspaper you can trust” The Nation was busy analyzing allegedly fake pictures of live Thaksin, finding faults with the background that just seemed off, unnatural shadows or wind blowing trees the wrong way, etc., etc. But finally a Nation report called Thaksin’s number and talked to someone who sounded “real” and definitely just like Thaksin. So after about a week of his mortality in doubt, Thaksin rose from “the dead” and was seen on TV giving interviews from Montenegro. Being no less Thai than their Yellow countrymen and women, the Red Shirts weren’t immune to rumors either. In a rumor of a much smaller scale and intensity circulating among the Reds was that the head of the privy council, General Prem, was believed to be no longer alive because (like Thaksin) he had been unseen in public for some time.
But all that wasn’t so creative and fantastical as the next. The Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation or CRES, ศ.อ.ฉ. to Thais, “discovered” a conspiracy of its own: เครือข่ายล้มเจ้า /khrueaa khàay lóm jâaw/ or a “network to overthrow the monarchy.” A convoluted chart that looked messier than any treasure maps Indiana Jones would ever have a misfortune to make sense of was produced by the CRES. Names of many prominent figures closely and marginally related to the Red movement, or even not related but having views not conforming to the official line, were put somewhere in the “network.” Those ready to believe in such a conspiracy gobbled it up. The more skeptical type either scratched their heads or just stared at it wondering at the amount of energy that went into making it. Evidence for such a conspiracy, as in most conspiracies, wasn’t readily available, if there was any.
This chart would be called by some skeptics a “Mind Map” (using the English word). (See a video commentary on Thai taste for rumors and the Mind Map.) A more academic analysis of such a conspiracy as a political tool was given by เกษียร เตชะพีระ Kasian Tejapira here. Even someone whose name appeared on the Mind Map สมศักดิ์ เจียมธีรสกุล Somsak Jeamteerasakul gave his own take here.)
Getting off the Tiger’s Back – Taking down a Mob
A week past, cracks were apparent in the Red Shirt leadership, though the core leaders strenuously denied it. Many commentators said the Red Shirts couldn’t agree on how to “find the way out,” or หาทางลง /hǎa thaang long/ (lit. “find the way down”) as it was often described in Thai. Neither could they find จุดลงตัว /jùt long tuaa/, lit. “the balanced point,” that all key Reds could agree to that would lead to the exit, a possible way to take down the purring red-clad tiger.
Some veteran protest leaders said it was much easier to rouse a tiger (of a mob) than to pacify it. The core Red Shirt leaders apparently couldn’t agree on how and when to get off the tiger’s back.
It was widely reported that สายพิราบ /sǎay phí-râap/, the “dovish faction,” led by Veera Musikapongse, was losing control to สายเหยี่ยว /sǎay yìiaw/, the “hawkish faction,” led by Jatuporn Prompan. It was seemingly a matter of the Red doves wanting to end the protests, but the Red hawks didn’t. To end or not to end, เลิก หรือ ไม่เลิก /lôoek/ /rǔue/ /mâi lôoek/, was the question. And then “Seh Daeng,” the rogue general, re-entered the scene after having been sort of banished from the Red stage for a while. The Red tiger got roused again by the charismatic rogue general.
So the Red tiger was not pacified or taken down. The protests were not to end. The almost done deal fell apart. Meanwhile, Mr. Veera has disappeared for the Red stage in the last 4-5 days, and was reported by Nirmal Ghosh of the Straits Times on May 14th to have left the leadership of the UDD along with a few other moderate core leaders. (Veera was quoted by some sources saying that during his public disappearance he was busy negotiating with the government, still seeking for a peaceful resolution.)
Seh Daeng or General Khattiya Sawasdipol, a renegade and incendiary figure within and without the Red movement, was seen as a ฮาร์ดคอร์ “hardcore” Red and believed by many to have been closely allied with นายใหญ่ /naay yài/ “the big boss,” i.e. Thaksin. Some conjectured that “the big boss” didn’t want the protests to end.
The Knottiness of the Law
More than a few commentators also pointed to another obstacle that got in the way of the Red Shirts concluding the protests – the knottiness of the law as concerning personal freedom of the core Red leaders if and when the protests end.
The Red Shirt leaders have at least publicly consistently said that they would not ask for นิรโทษกรรม /ní-rá-thôot-sà-kam/, an “amnesty.” But their critics weren’t convinced. The leaders said they would มอบตัว /mÔOp tua/, “turn [themselves] in” to the police for whatever crime the government would charge them with. All the while they insisted that they were not terrorists or traitors bent on ล้มสถาบัน /lóm sà-thǎa-ban/, “overthrowing the monarchy,” so they should not be charged with such hefty crimes as “terrorism” or “treason” – ก่อการร้าย /kÒO kaan ráay/ or กบฏ /kà-bòt/. Some also suggested (without evidence) that the Red leaders were concerned whether if they were to turn themselves in they would not “get bail,” ได้รับการประกันตัว /dâay ráp kaan prà-kan tua/.
Yet, no one can say with any certainty if this issue was really a big concern among the Red leaders. Besides what was mentioned above, what the Red leaders insisted on was the end of the Emergency Decree, พ.ร.ก. ฉุกเฉิน /pOO-rOO-kOO chùk-chǒoen/, which the government steadfastly refused to comply. They also insisted on being treated with the same (legal) standard as applied to those on the government side, singling out Deputy PM Suthep as an example, saying if they would be charged for any crime, then Suthep had to be charged for his orders for the April 10 crackdown too. They demanded that Suthep turn himself in to the police. Suthep readily accepted the (ill thought) challenge and turned himself in to the DSI (Department of Special Investigation), กรมสอบสวนคดีพิเศษ (ดีเอสไอ) /krom sÒOp sǔan khá-dii phí-sèet/. It was a farce of course because there were no charges.
Vigorous media censorship by the government was also an issue of contention. By latest count at least 50,000 websites have been closed down. Red-sympathetic and anti-government media outlets, TV and radio and websites, have been major targets and victims. The government has insisted on keeping “law and order.” Thailand was still in สถานการณ์ฉุกเฉิน /sà-thǎa-ná-kaan chùk-chǒoen/, State of Emergency and no laws were going to be lifted.
A Bullet in the Head and Hell Broke Loose
So State of Emergency we got. A real one. With bullets in people’s heads, guns fired with rubber and live bullets in the air and at bodies, grenades thrown, bombs exploded, a bus burnt, tear gas fired, and more. And that was just in the last 24 hours.
The government finally decided to take ปฏิบัติการขั้นเด็ดขาด /pà-tì-bàt-kaan khân dèt-khàat/, a “decisive action,” to bring an end to the mob; if the protesters were not willing to ยุติการชุมนุม /yú-tì kaan-chum-num/, “end the demonstrations,” on their own accord, then it would have to สลายการชุมนุม /sà-lǎay kaan-chum-num/, “disperse the demonstrations,” (though less formal people would call it สลายม็อบ /sà-lǎay mÒp/, “disperse the mob”).
The government started locking down Rajaprasong area, the main protest site, from 6pm of Thursday night. APCs and troops in full combat gears moved in several hot spots. It said the troops were needed to กดดัน /kòt dan/, “pressure” the protesters to go home and to “separate the innocents,” แยกผู้บริสุทธิ์ /yÊEk phûu bOO-rí-sùt/, from the “terrorists.” As to how it would or could accomplish that is anybody’s guess.
Just one hour after the lock down on Thursday night, the dramatic beginning of the crackdown of the Red Shirts began. Seh Daeng was shot with a sniper bullet in the head while giving interviews to several reporters, including Thomas Fuller of the International Herald Tribune. This was the picture captured by a Nation reporter Somruethai nearly 50,000 people would see in the first 24 hours, and Fuller gave his account of the moment Seh Daeng was shot here. No one took responsibility of the shooting. The shooter was most probably a highly skilled sniper. The army and government denied any role in the shooting. [UPDATES: Seh Daeng was taken to Hua Chiew Hospital and then moved to Vajjira Hospital (though he was shot near Chula Hospital), and is now still on life support in ICU.]
The following day would see more mayhem and casualties. Clashes were reported throughout the day and continued into the night. By midnight of Friday May 14th, reports gleaned on Twitter had between 7-10 dead, 101 injured (9 in ICU).
(See reports by CNN and the BBC’s Alastair Leithead and Rachel Harvey for incidents during the day of May 14th, and Patrick Winn’s for his account of Friday night.) The army and CRES declared it would continue to กระชับพื้นที่ /krà-cháp phúuen-thîi/, “tighten the area.” Fears loom large that more would happen over the night.
[UPDATES: By 6am on Saturday, May 15th, casualties increased to 16 dead and 141 injured – of those killed were 14 men and 1 woman and a 10-yr-old child was among the injured, shot in the stomach. By night time the number of dead rose to 24, and the 10-yr-old boy finally succumbed.]
The End of the Beginning or the Beginning of the End?
(Sources for this section are from Twitter.)
Friday night was also a busy night for TV press conferences. The government spokesman Panitan came on to explain and clarify the rules of engagement that troops were ordered to only fire live rounds “into the air” and “in self-defense” and to “attack people in general.” He also said that the troops only acted in response to a “group of people, possibly Red Shirts,” “attacking authorities.” Meanwhile, PM Abhisit was still “willing to work with civil society on the road map.” (bangkokpundit, Journotopia)
Meanwhile the CRES spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd gave his own:
“People have been trying to distort news… The public have seen footages of troops firing, but haven’t seen reds shooting at troops… Men on motorcycles using grenades tried to increase provocation on troops’ barricades… Troops will never use bombs. Will fire one bullet at a time only.” (tulsathit)
Of all, the biggest news flash of the night went to Sondhi Limthongkul who appeared on ASTV for the first time in months. He announced his resignation from the News Politics Party and to resume PAD leadership. (TAN_Network) Last but not least, he also said:
วันนี้ผมมองข้ามนายกฯอภิสิทธิ์ไปแล้ว …ไม่มีความหมายสำหรับผม (Nattha_tvthai)
“Today, I look beyond Abhisit … [He] no longer matters to me.”
>>My own summary of the five-point road map as explained (in Thai) by the PM as reported in Kom Chad Luek (4 May 2010). (I have taken the essence of each point and avoided paraphrasing as much as possible.)
- ประชาชนทุกฝ่าย “ช่วยกันปกป้องเทิดทูนสถาบัน กษัตริย์และพระบรมวงศานุวงศ์ ไม่ให้มีสื่อใดจาบจ้างสถาบัน” เพื่อไม่ให้สถาบัน “ถูกดึงมาสู่ความขัดแย้งทางการเมือง”
- เนื่องจาก “พี่น้องที่มาชุมนุม” ไม่ได้รับความเป็นธรรมและโอกาส “พี่น้องจะได้รับการดูแลด้วยระบบสวัสดิการที่ดี การศึกษา สาธารณสุข และการมีอาชีพ มีรายได้ มีความมั่นคงในชีวิต รวมถึงพี่น้องที่มีเรื่องทุกข์ร้อน มีหนี้สิน ไม่มีที่ดินทำกิน จะได้รับการดูแลอย่างเป็นระบบ” และจะ “ดึงเอาทุกภาคส่วนเข้ามาช่วย แก้ไขปัญหาอย่างเป็นระบบ”
- “เทคโนโลยีปัจจุบันกลาย เป็นเครื่องมือทางการเมือง” “เราจะต้องทำให้สื่อทุก สื่อมีอิสระในการเสนอข่าว แต่ไม่ใช่การนำเสนอข่าวที่สร้างความแตกแยก ละเมิดสิทธิ ถ้าเราทำให้สื่อมีอิสระได้เราจะลดความขัดแย้งได้อย่างรวดเร็ว”
- “จะต้องมีการตรวจสอบ มีการดำเนินการตามกฎหมาย ถึงสาเหตุที่มาที่ไป” ของเหตุการณ์รุนแรงที่เกดขึ้นในการชุมนุมตั้งแต่เดือนมีนาคมเป็นต้นมา “เราจะมีการตั้งคณะกรรมการอิสระเพื่อเข้ามาตรวจสอบเพื่อให้ความเป็น ธรรมทุกฝ่าย เพื่อให้ความจริงปรากฏกับประชาชนได้รับทราบ”
- “จัดการกับปัญหา” ความไม่เป็นธรรมในกติกาการเมือง “เพื่อให้ความเป็นธรรมกับทุกฝ่าย ซึ่งครอบคลุมตั้งแต่ประเด็นการแก้รัฐธรรมนูญจนถึงการชุมนุมเกิน 5 คน ที่ทำให้ไปสู่ความขัดแย้ง”
>>For more Thai political terms see The Reigning Vocabulary of Thai Colored Politics.