Inside Lumpini Park: Thai anti-govt protesters vow to stay the courseBy Casey Hynes Mar 04, 2014 1:06PM UTC
One month ago, 65-year-old Burana Somchai made the long trip from his hometown of Ubon Ratchathani to Bangkok. He set up camp in Lumpini Park and joined his fellow citizens to protest against the current government. He, like the thousands of others who have come out in recent months to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, derides the administration as corrupt and demands a better system for Thailand.
“The whole world should know about Thailand’s crisis right now,” Somchai said. “They are cheating everyone. There is deep corruption.”
Protest leader and head of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) Suthep Thaugsuban announced last week that after months of blocking intersections and “shutting down” the Thai capital, protesters would dismantle their stages, unblock roadways, and concentrate in Lumpini Park. Though some view this as a sign that the opposition movement is weakening, the crowd at the park seemed to remain steadfast over the weekend, reaffirming their commitment to seeing Yingluck Shinawatra and her exiled brother Thaksin ousted from power.
Somchai left his wife and family in Ubon Ratchathani, a province in northeastern Thailand, but said he is committed to staying the course. He predicted that Yingluck would be removed from power in the coming weeks, as she faces charges of corruption and negligence related to the government rice pledging scheme. And if she isn’t removed from office as soon as he expects? No matter.
“I will stay until she is out,” Somchai said.
He’s not the only one. The crowd at Lumpini Park over the weekend was peaceful, but there were no signs of anyone there packing up and going home. Tents cover large swaths of the area, and there are makeshift showers, television viewing areas, and stands where people can get free coffee, water, and food. Vendors are also selling protest-themed t-shirts in the park. In addition to “Restart Thailand” and “Bangkok Shutdown” tees, vendors inside the park and around the Silom protest stage were selling “Pop Corn” t-shirts, which refer to the masked gunmen seen at some protest sites with weapons concealed by corn seed bags. Though several individuals were involved in defending the protesters, one vendor said the idea of a “Pop Corn superhero” brings hope to those gathered in Bangkok.
“Pop Corn is like Superman,” she said. “When the police attack the people, they think, ‘Pop Corn will help me.'”
A man who identified himself only as Frank said he is from Bangkok and has been rallying against the government for the past four months. He, too, praised the masked gunmen.
“I think they are good guys,” Frank said. “They know the price. They know what we are [here] for.”
Suthep appeared in Lumpini Park Saturday afternoon, flanked by bodyguards and associates. He seemed to be discussing logistics near the park entrance, while many waved and snapped photos of him, and one man appeared to pass him a note and money via his bodyguards.
Corruption is still central to the protesters’ frustrations and some at Lumpini said that Western countries don’t understand the political situation in Thailand, and can’t understand why people would want to remove a supposedly democratically elected official from office.
“We cannot explain to foreigners why we want to stop the government from working,” said Kung, who said she has been protesting in Bangkok for three months. “They don’t understand Thai politics. They think, ‘this government was elected, so why stop them?’ But we have a puppet government. Yingluck is not doing the thinking. Thaksin controls everything.”
Kung said that before elections are held, there needs to be a fundamental change in the process so that leaders are chosen in a fair and transparent way, rather than vote-buying and other corrupt schemes (of which Yingluck’s brother Thaksin has been accused).
“We need a new system,” Kung said. “We need elections from the people.”
Somchai echoed her sentiments, saying “democracy is not just about elections.” It’s about transparency, he said, and a more balanced government representing more than just one party’s interests.
At an information booth set up to spread information about the plight of the farmers due to the rice pledging scheme, a woman advocated for organic farming and for farmers to have control over to whom they sell their rice. “We don’t need [the government],” she said.
Others also criticized Yingluck’s government’s handling of the rice pledging scheme, which has cost the country $6 billion in losses each year since 2011, according to TIME. If the prime minister is found guilty on charges related to negligence and abuse of power, she would be forced to resign and banned from politics for five years.
What that would mean for the country remains to be seen, especially as many anticipate more conflict between PRDC supporters and Shinawatra-loving Red Shirts. Five people (including four children) were killed in attacks in late February, and rhetoric has become more heated on both sides. Thaugsuban proposed a televised debate between himself and Yingluck, but the Bangkok Post reported that this is unlikely to happen. Thaugsuban said he wants the discussion to be broadcast to the public for the sake of transparency. However, Yingluck questioned whether the opposition leader was ready to “halt the protests so that the election can proceed according to the principles of democracy,” according to The Nation.