Jun 29 2011
Folk around the world are aware that something is brewing in Thailand ahead of this weekend’s elections. They may have heard of the Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts, though from there on out things likely get a bit hazy. The political situation in Thailand is so nuanced that just being in the country does not provide you with even a fraction of the answers. So here we are today to try and break a few things down. This post will concentrate on one side of the equation: what do the Red Shirts want?
The Red Shirts are not a political party, but rather a political movement supporting certain politicians and ideas. Officially known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (the UDD), the Red Shirts first came onto the scene in 2006 after a coup ousted the prime minister they supported, Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin found much of his fan-base among Thailand’s rural and urban poor, with particular strongholds in Thailand’s north and northeast.
As premier, Thaksin initiated populist policies such as microfinance investments in small villages and cheap healthcare; initiatives that readily appeased these target low-income groups. With these policies plus a dash of charisma, Thaksin became an icon to many of Thailand’s poor, including the impressively large population of farmers. (This despite a “war against drugs” that saw thousands of extrajudicial killings occur.)
By the same coin, Thaksin is hated by the Thai elite and is seen by them as the embodiment of corruption and a threat to the monarchy.
In April and May 2010, the Red Shirts became international news when they organised protests that grew so big and went on for so long that they managed to shut-down much of Bangkok. Why were they on the streets?
In 2006, after five years in office, Thaksin was ousted in a national coup. Since then Thaksin has been living in exile in Dubai, unable to return to Thailand without being sent to prison. In 2010, a court order ruled that many of Thaksin’s assets would be seized (he was a then-billionaire) which enraged many of the Red Shirts who were already upset for a multitude of reasons, including but not limited to the fact that Thaksin was no longer in power. Protesting ensued.
These 2010 protests also focused on the Red Shirts’ insistence that the current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, hold elections early and be removed from office. (The Red Shirts consider Abhisit to be a puppet for the Thai conservative elite and a man who came to power illegitimately.) The military violently dissolved the protests, resulting in 91 deaths, and many Red Shirt leaders were sent to prison.
To this day, the Red Shirts say their fight is one to end socioeconomic double standards in Thailand and to promote justice. But the Reds do now encompass a wide range of political agendas, mostly anti- what they see as the establishment (they somehow see Thaksin and his family as not being part of this elite). Though most Reds do support the Shinawatra family, the two are not always synonymous.
In this Sunday’s election, Thaksin’s younger sister Yingluck is the front-running candidate for prime minister, with the Pheu Thai party. Huge numbers of the Red Shirts support Yingluck, and will be going to the polls on Sunday to vote for Pheu Thai. Thaksin has claimed his sister as his “clone” and many voters think that if Yingluck is elected, Thaksin will soon be back in Thailand. For Thailand’s lower classes, Yingluck is a logical choice as she promises policies such as an increase in the minimum wage to 300 baht per day.
So, what do the Red Shirts want? In the simplest of terms it seems they want what most voters want: their person back in power and/or their people taken care of.
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