After elections, ‘cautious optimism’ in Thailand’s red shirt villages
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After elections, ‘cautious optimism’ in Thailand’s red shirt villages

By Saksith Saiyasombut

In the run-up to the elections earlier this year, almost seemingly out of nowhere, the ‘Red Shirt Villages’ of Thailand’s North-Eastern Isaan region were featured in the (foreign) media multiple times. These villages, reportedly hundreds of them, have put up signboards and red flags symbolically declaring themselves as ‘Red Villages for Democracy’ and also their loyalty to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Within a short amount of time, dozens of rural communities have launched their red villages on their own and, as assured numerous times, with no (financial) support by any political parties or the official United Front for Democracy and against Dictatorship (UDD).

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Members of a 'Red Shirt Village' attend a meeting near Khon Kaen, Thailand on July 2, 2011 (Photo by Saksith Saiyasombut/IHA)

Now that the government has changed hands, what has happened in the red shirt villages since the elections? How do the people, who have successfully thrown their support behind the Pheu Thai Party and Yingluck Shinawatra, feel now?

The Isaan Record“, a Khon Kaen-based blog launched earlier this year, regularly writes about the under-reported region (thus subscribing to them is highly recommended) and does so again recently on the situation of the red shirts post-election. This post, written in mid-July when Yingluck and many red shirt leaders have not been endorsed by the Election Commission yet, describes the mood in the overlooked red shirt villages in urban Khon Kaen:

Much like the Red Village movement in the rural Northeast, urban Khon Kaen slums and neighborhoods have been quietly morphing into Red Villages of their own. (…)

And, according to Amnuay Warayot, a leader of the unregistered Red Village Ta Wan Mai in Khon Kaen city, around 92 Red Villages have emerged in the city alone over the past three years.

Despite media attention on rural Red Villages, leaders of this community insisted that unofficial Red Villages like their own are practically identical. “There is absolutely no difference between our [unregistered] Red Community and those Red Villages in the countryside,” said Ms. Amnuay’s co-leader, Chaw-an Kwammun. (…)

“We won’t celebrate because Yingluck is not yet the Prime Minister,” said Ms. Amnuay. “We only know that Pheu Thai has the highest score in the polls. We will celebrate when she is truly elected.” (…)

Right now, we’re just waiting. We’re waiting for the government to be approved. We want to see what the UDD will do [after the endorsement announcement]. Then, we will follow,” said Ms. Banjong. “We’re ready to participate, together.”

Off the Radar, Red Villages Wait“, The Isaan Record, July 16 2011

Another article describes the activities of the red shirts on Thaksin’s birthday:

In a post-election climate typified by cautious optimism amongst the Red Shirts, the city’s first major UDD gathering was not to celebrate the Red-supported Pheu Thai party’s “landslide victory,” nor presumptive Prime Minister (and Mr. Thaksin’s youngest sister) Yingluck Shinawatra’s endorsement by the Election Commission, but a birthday party.

“Many people still see [Mr. Thaksin] as the best Prime Minister they ever had,” local Red Radio DJ Numchaya explained yesterday. “People haven’t seen what Yingluck is capable of, so Mr. Thaksin is still very important.”

Thaksin’s Red Birthday Bash“, The Isaan Record, July 27 2011

Even though Yingluck was supported and eventually voted in by many Thais not despite the fact that she is Thaksin’s youngest sister, but because she is (a fact many of her opponents have likely neglected). Expectations by the red shirts are unsurprisingly high, for example, regarding the ‘reconciliation’ process over last year’s violent dispersal or also which red shirt leaders will get a cabinet post, if at all.

Now that everything is set for the new administration to begin their work, the red shirts will be only one of many groups that have high hopes for prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to do better than the previous government or even to be as good as her brother was.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.