Red March on Bangkok - Week Two Recap

It's been two weeks since the red shirts have been protesting in Bangkok and despite the noise there's still no end in sight, let alone a solution of the central problems they were protesting in the first place. The last seven days have been considerably quieter on the protest front, with numbers dwindling down to just a few thousands during the week - but it was expected by the protest leaders, as one of them said that the protesters, mostly from the distant provinces, were "rotating". Also the volume of the protests has decreased. After the still more than questionable blood stunt of last week the most notable act was a mass hair-cut of the protestors. As a side note, the government has extended the Internal Security Act for another seven days.

Another incident occurred on Wednesday, when parliament has been barricaded prior to a session. However, the fortification has backfired as MPs had to walk the rest of the way to parliament building and about 100 MPs of the opposition Puea Thai Party have boycotted and seized the opportunity to lament the barricade as a metaphor for the current political situation.

On Saturday the Red Shirts have originally planned a large motorcycle caravan roaming around the capital, but it has been cancelled the day before. The Nation has cited various reasons for the cancellation including:

A red-shirt source said the plan of marching had been opposed by several protest leaders, who agreed it would expose the red shirts to organised incidents by the government or a third party.

The source also said another march would cause severe traffic congestion at a time when there some important events were being held in Bangkok, such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union assembly and the National Book Fair, in addition to the entrance exam for high-school students.

The protest leaders yesterday also accused the government of assembling their supporters from communities in Bangkok to pressure the protesting red shirts.

"Red shirts call off plan for march today", The Nation, March 27, 2010

Instead, the Red Shirts were rallying to various spots in the city, mostly temples, in an effort to push out the military checkpoints stationed there. Nirmal Ghosh of the The Straits Times was at one of the locations and described the scene:

A truck with Red Shirt leaders Nattawut Saikuar and Dr Weng aboard, was parked directly in front of the gate. Nattawut was haranguing the soldiers but also offering them safe passage. A path had been cleared for the soldiers to leave, with the Reds’ black clad guards linking arms and keeping the mass of the crowd under control. But there was little tension, many were cheering and clapping. In the procession behind, trucks were belting out rousing Isan music and some were dancing. Big freshly minted white banners were printed with English and Thai slogans emphasising peace and non-violence.

A massive cheer went up when it was announced that the soldiers would leave. Peering through the gate I saw them loading their gear into trucks. Presently three trucks, one Humvee and one covered pickup lined up inside the gate, ready to roll. At around 1.30pm local time the gates were opened and the Humvee led the way out. The crowd was ecstatic. Some of the soldiers took pictures from the trucks.

"Thai version of people power?", by Nirmal Ghosh, The Straits Times, March 27, 2010

Similar scenes have been reported elsewhere. Encouraged by this small victory, the Red Shirts have gathered later in the evening in front of Government House also demand the soldiers to leave. Even though the situations looked a bit tense as it was unlikely at first that none of the two fractions would back down, the Red Shirts eventually decided not to pull a yellow shirt move and eventually retreated back to the main rally site at Pan Fah Bridge.

Unfortunately, there has been another bomb attack and it has claimed the most injured people since the beginning of the protest. Two grenades went off at two government-owned TV stations (Channel 5 and Channel 11) just within hours, eleven people (soldiers and civilians alike) have been injured. This is the latest in a series of grenade attacks throughout the past week. It is not (officially) known who threw these grenades, but it is very likely that a third party is involved here. For more on the grenade launcher attacks in recent times, Global Post's Patrick Winn has this background story.

Where are we now? By the looks of it there has been very little progress. Despite this, the most notable point is that the protests were peaceful! Neither the red shirts nor the government/military have provoked each other and have shown restraint and also respect. What might be a problem in my opinion is the  spirit of the red shirts. Yes, today's peaceful act with the military could be considered a victory. It is a very small one though, since not only the soldiers are now replaced by police forces, but also are they still far, far away from their central demands. PM Abhisit shows no sign of dissolving the house and calling for fresh elections. So, unless the red shirts are able to score a big victory - such as gaining more popular support from Bangkok residents - time is running out for them. But time could in the end be in the Red Shirt's favor as well, as both sides are certainly interested to move beyond the stalemate. The longer protest go on, the more likely a compromise is possible as Bangkok Pundit analyses:

(...) A journalist raised with Dr. Weng in a UDD presser on March 14 whether the red shirts would accept a promise by Abhisit in 3 months time and he said yes. BP doubts Abhisit (and *cough* the army *cough*) would accept the 3 month timeline, but what about a promise to dissolve within 6 months (decision is made at beginning of April) or by the end of the year? This would make it more difficult for both sides to reject. The reds want a dissolution now, but a promise to dissolve by the end of the year is more difficult for the reds to reject. The coalition partners don't want a dissolution now, but once the military reshuffle is resorted and another budget with the coalition partners getting their hands on more goodies to "hand" out. This would mean the Dems would have had about 2 years in office. They have a chance to see their policies implemented.

"What next for the red shirts and the government?", Bangkok Pundit, March 27, 2010

A new election would not solve the problems of the political crisis, as many of the issues are rooted much deeper, but it would be a step in the right direction if politics are not taken to the streets again - at least until the next time.

Further reading: