Nirmal Ghosh in the Straits Times (subscription only). Key excerpt:
THE amounts were modest by Bangkok standards, but the wave of donations was not.
Last weekend, 560km north-east of Bangkok in the city of Udon Thani near the Lao border, a fund-raiser for the pro-democracy ‘red shirts’ had 430 tables at 2,000 baht (S$85) per table filled to capacity.
On a tour of the city and its surroundings, red shirt organisers were flooded with envelopes of money from people from all walks of life – waiters and waitresses, vendors, shopkeepers and villagers.
Udon Thani’s red shirt organisers have in fact run out of buses to ferry supporters to Bangkok for a massive demonstration scheduled for today and tomorrow. At a minimum, 2,000 people are expected to make the trip to the capital.
Udon Thani is not alone. Across Thailand’s upcountry plains, there is pent-up frustration on the verge of spilling over into rage. The Bangkok establishment’s nightmare is on the brink of turning into reality: an invasion of the capital by rural hordes fed up with being at worst dismissed and at best patronised by the capital’s old elite.
There was little media coverage of the Udon Thani phenomenon in Bangkok. That continues a pattern of denial that has spawned a possibly fatal complacency over the level of frustration the rural masses feel.
/>In April 2007, PAD co-leader and ideologue Sondhi Limthongkul – who had built his power base on the urban ethnic Chinese middle classes – told the online Asia Times candidly that ‘old feudalists’ wanted to ‘kick out Thaksin’ because ‘they were beginning to see their power
/>base decline slowly’.
/>[Thaksin and Privy Council in conflict and elite feeling under threat]
The response of the elite has been to suppress. But suppression – though it might succeed in the short run – will inevitably invite a backlash.
The red shirts arguably have history on their side: Thais have tasted democracy and the masses are unwilling to cede ground again to the capital’s elite. The authoritarian Thaksin has emerged as an unlikely champion of democracy.
But just as the Bangkok elite found it difficult to put back into the bottle the forces they unleashed in condoning the PAD, so the forces triggered by Mr Thaksin are larger than him. The struggle that both sides have unleashed is unlikely to play itself out without violence.
/>The art of creative compromise, long a hallmark of Thai politics, is being challenged. The struggle through which a new Thailand will eventually emerge could be over in a few days or weeks, but it will more likely last months or even a couple of years.
The same month in 2007 that Mr Sondhi made his revealing remarks to Asia Times, Chulalongkorn University political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak wrote: ‘The pent-up forces are so powerful that Thailand’s old elite would be better off adapting astutely rather than putting up a risky and futile resistance.
‘As the dialectic between the old and the new is resolved in the coming months, Thailand as we know it will likely come to an end. A new Thailand is slowly but surely emerging.’
BP: Actually, there is noticeably less media coverage of the red shirts being all paid lackeys. For a while, the coverage was they were all paid drones of the "evil one" and thus could be ignored (contra that initial meme with this). There was collective shock last when they all didn’t "run off home" when the rain fell last week. Thaksin and UDD have since been attacked for undermining the monarchy with Thaksin and UDD’s criticism of the Privy Council being equated with criticism of the monarchy. The thuggish behaviour by some red shirts in Pattaya and police/Interior Minister warnings of a third hand wanting to cause violence and that people should not protest may deter some, but certainly not all. Numbers are an important part of the game. Even the lowest government estimates of 40,000 is above that of the previous protest. Realistically, they need at least 100,000 given the emphasis/importance of the rally and the momentum. If they can break through that ceiling and there is no violence then who knows what will happen.