Our Bangkok correspondent H. Numan sends this update on the latest unrest in Thailand.
Thailand: it’s shirt time again!
by H. Numan
I’ve reported extensively about the red vs yellow shirt crises during last decade in Thailand. In the end the green shirts (army) won. At this moment we see the white shirts (students) battling it out with the brown shirts (police). Who will win is not clear, but I’m absolutely certain we are witnessing the beginning of what could become large-scale riots, if not something a good deal worse.
As usual, a bit of groundwork. What’s that with colors in Thailand? Well, you have to understand: Thailand is not a western country. It is one of the few Asian countries that was never colonized. Therefore it was able to keep its identity. In Thai culture colors have names, and every day of the week has its own color. The late king was born on Monday, which has the color yellow. In Thailand yellow is reserved for the king himself. All members of the royal family have their own personal color.
When people started to organize themselves into opposing camps under the Thaksin administration, royalists wore yellow shirts. They were mainly middle class citizens of Bangkok. Adherents to Thaksin started to wear red shirts. Not because they are communist. Communism is explicitly forbidden in Thailand. Red is the color of blood and of love for the country. Thaksin supporters (red shirts) were predominantly lower-class citizens outside Bangkok. In other words: a huge majority. Both the red and yellow shirts were monarchists. The monarchy was not an issue. That’s why you have the weird situation in which both parties were carrying large portraits of the late king Rama IX.
Those colors are important. When the late king Bumibhol left the hospital one day wearing a mint green jacket, I saw lot of people the next day wearing mint green shirts.
In the end, the green shirts won. They committed a coup d’état in 2014 and are still in control. Both the yellow shirt and red shirt leaders were arrested and put on trial. Both movements were disbanded. As usual they claimed no other solution was possible but a coup, and they would put things right and fight corruption. And, of course, as soon as possible democracy would be restored.
And, of course, that didn’t happen. This military government may not have been the most corrupt government in Thai history, but they sure tried. One nice juicy scandal involved the many watches of General Prawit Wongsuan. He was spotted wearing an expensive watch he hadn’t declared when he took office. Soon it was clear he had a collection of 24 watches. We’re talking top-of-the-line watches costing many thousands of dollars. Each watch is more worth than the annual salary of a general.
We do have a national anti-corruption commission — which is akin to Marlboro running anti-smoking campaigns. That NACC did its utmost best to keep Prawit out of the wind. After a lengthy investigation they accepted his excuse: those watches were from a friend, who sadly passed away. That friend had loaned him those 24 watches, and matching jewelry. He will return them to the next of kin, some day in the far future. He wears them today. As a badge of (dis)honor, even. After all, he, an honest hard-working underpaid officer, defeated the evil corrupt NACC.
Last year the military government announced they had re-written the constitution, would resign from office, and called for democratic elections. When Prayuth announced his candidacy for premier, I knew he was going to win. No Thai PM would ever announce his candidacy if he wasn’t 100% certain he was going to win. Which he did.
Were the elections rigged? Probably. A vote costs Bt. 500 ($16) each. Thai politics are not based on national parties, but on persons. For example, scumbag first class, I mean police captain Chalerm Yubamrung. Talk about every crime in the book, he will assure you he committed more. His youngest son Duangchalerm shot a police officer in a bar. He fled to Singapore. There the Thai ambassador personally escorted him home, where daddy had arranged a hero’s welcome for him on the airport, with thousands cheering the returning hero. He never had to see a judge, the court has ruled that
the bribe was sufficient there was insufficient evidence for prosecution. Daddy was member of parliament and even vice-premier under the Yingluck administration. He supported the wrong team, and was arrested shortly after the coup. Now he is retired in comfort.