Saturday, 16 July 2011

Thailand: the Pheu Thai Party—the ‘Red Shirts’—take office

A little over a year ago many people in Thailand—certainly in Bangkok—believed that the Red Shirts were over as a political force. After occupying the city centre for months and shutting down several major shopping centres(!), in May 2010 the Thai army ‘swept’ the city of Bangkok clean of red shirt protesters, killing over 90 in doing so, including a 16 year old boy. The city, or at least its ‘elite’ quickly got back to the business of making money and tried to forget that for several months the streets had been dominated by protesters from the rural provinces, however, this death knell was premature, the red shirts did not give up, nor forget.
The basis of the red shirt power is a seemingly unlikely combination between an emergent capitalist class, which came into existence in the previous generation riding the wave of Thai industrialisation, and the rural poor, those who believe that they are getting the sharp end of Thai economic progress. Impatient with the restrictions, which the traditional landed aristocracy have imposed, this new business class made common cause with the effectively disenfranchised rural electors. This alliance had propelled a seemingly unlikely “people’s hero” to high office, the former Prime Minister and now exiled Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, a wealthy business tycoon.  
Now, from July 2011, his sister, the new leader of the Pheu Thai Party, is the new Prime Minister of Thailand, and the first female PM of Thailand. Congratulations.
I am not familiar with the details of how this new PM and government came to power. This would be an interesting story in itself, however, it is clearly an example of excellent planning, design and execution. The past year and a half saw the Reds survive continual harassment from the government and bureaucracy. Red Shirt leaders were arrested for various reasons, there publications seized and destroyed. The Red leaders were forced to have their printing carried out in Cambodia, and of course when they brought the material into Thailand it was seized and destroyed. A continual rain of petty harassment.
During the election campaign this continued. The ballot papers displayed an erroneously small Red Shirt party logo, many more ballot papers were printed than were needed—some speculated that these ‘extra’ papers would be used to increase the government vote, soldiers were arrested for harassing Red electors prior to the election, more Red leaders were arrested or threatened with arrest. Yet with all of this the Pheu Thai party won the election with 265 seats out of 500. 
I do not know what will happen in Thailand, nor if the new government will prove successful, or not, but it is encouraging to see ordinary people organise and achieve victory. Again, congrats.

A few more election posters, this time from Bangkok:

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