BANGKOK: The Heat is On

For a video view, check our: Red Shirt Rally

Some of you may remember a little over a year ago when huge protests closed Bangkok’s airport for over a week.  Those were the “Yellow Shirts”, and they were unhappy with what they saw as a flawed election.  The result was that the Prime Minister was removed, and a candidate agreeable to the Yellows, Abhisit, was installed in his place.  This year it’s the “Red Shirts” who are protesting Abhisit, and the day we fly into Bangkok from Bali we get caught right in the middle of their demonstration.

We had no news of what was going on when we were in Bali, except for one brief and enigmatic clip on a hotel lobby T.V. that the manager smilingly dismissed as “nothing”.  It turns out it was a bizarre episode (which a Newsweek top ten article rated the “strangest act of protest of all time”) in which the Reds dumped buckets of their own blood on the parliamentary steps.  By the time we arrived the Red Shirts had turned one of the busiest streets in Bangkok – Ratchedamoen Ave. by Democracy Monument – into their camp, and were running “mobile protests” from there which were paralyzing the city.  At the airport when our taxi driver heard we wanted to go to Phra Artit – a small street in the same neighbourhood – he gave a disgruntled laugh, and we spent the next 15 minutes trying to communicate what the problem was.  All he could come up with was “accident”, and we were left pondering what sort of accident could turn a large area of Bangkok into a no-go zone.

As we got closer we were able to figure out that it was the Red Shirts, and that we could drive only as far as their barricades at the Golden Mount.  It was 2:30 in the afternoon, in the hot season, and it meant we had to walk for a further ½ hour with all of our luggage.  The Red camp was a little like the Yellow camp we went to last year, but less festive.  Of course Red protest accessories – T-shirts, head-bands and foot-clappers – were for sale, and there were plenty of enterprising noodle carts and foot massage tents.  At the main stage just off Democracy Monument the usual polemical-sounding speakers were trying to harangue the audience, but the heat put pretty much everybody into an anesthetized stupor.  We soldiered on up Ratchedamoen.  Even my fingers were perspiring.  Usually eight lanes of kamikaze traffic, it was surreal to walk down the middle of the empty avenue.

Despite the histrionics of the protest, and the disruption of the traffic, the Red turnout has been less than expected, and the government doesn’t appear too disturbed by it.  For the moment they have the army on their side, and it is the army which is the real power-broker in Thai politics.  The wild card in all of this is the health of the King.  He is 83 and has just been in hospital and appears fragile.  All the expats and long-term visitors we know here are extremely concerned about the situation.  For a start, when he goes, the entire country will shut down for a month.  After that it may really get chaotic, with a protracted country-rending conflict being a distinct possibility.  Never mind us falangs, this is the last thing most Thais want, but it is a subject that is almost impossible to broach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *