The Bangkok Post on February 20:
A large group of farmers from northern and central provinces are on their way to Bangkok. The convoy began in Uthai Thani and farmers are joining it all along the way.
At the moment, there are between 1,000 and 2,000 of them.
They are coming to Bangkok because the government has not yet paid them for their rice.
Many of the farmers are travelling with their farm vehicles. There are about 400 e-taen farm trucks and many tractors. In addition there are about 10 ten-wheel trucks, 12 six-wheel trucks, 50 pick-up trucks and about 150 motorcycles.
The Bangkok Post on February 20:
Senior Pheu Thai Party members tried desperately on Thursday night to convince a farm leader to change a plan to lead farmers to Bangkok to protest against the government’s failure to pay for pledged rice.
Key Pheu Thai figures, including Somchai Wongsawat, made phone calls to Chada Thaiseth, a former Chartthaipattana Party member, to put the brakes on a convoy of about 1,000 farmers which has been moving slowly towards the capital from Uthai Thani and other central provinces.
The Bangkok Post on February 21 the numbers had grown:
A caravan of 700 farm trucks carrying around 5,000 rice growers began the journey to the capital on Wednesday.
Chada Thaiset, a former Chartthaipattana Party MP for Uthai Thani who leads the rally, said the farmers would talk only to Ms Yingluck. They would wait until noon before moving to Suvarnabhumi airport.
The farmers earlier said they had no intention to close the airport. However, some might stay on the road to the international gateway until they learn when they would get the money.
The Nation on February 21:
Tens of thousands of farmers, travelling on more than 1,000 farm tractors in a long convoy from the upper northern and central provinces, will today arrive in Bangkok and move to Suvarnabhumi Airport in a concerted attempt to pressure the caretaker government to resign.
They believe the government’s exit would remove the legal hurdle impeding funding for the rice-subsidy project.
Meanwhile, another group of farmers plans to file a petition with the Office of the Ombudsman, demanding a probe into the government’s rice-pledging scheme, as corruption is suspected to be the reason for the inability to pay the farmers.
Former Chart Thai Pattana Party MP Chada Thaiset, who represents Uthai Thani farmers, led some 15,000 farmers from Uthai Thani, Ayutthaya, Singburi and Ang Thong to Bangkok.
“I decided to lead the convoy because I feel sorry for the farmers and I am fed up with the government’s lies about the payment, which never came,” said Chada, whose party is a coalition partner of the Pheu Thai-led caretaker government.
Some farmers would be heading to Suvarnabhumi Airport, for a purpose he did not specify. But, they insisted that they would not obstruct air traffic or raid the airport. They only wanted to make a symbolic demonstration. After that, this group of farmers will move to other places.
However, Reuters listed much fewer in 1st article:
More than 1,000 farmers, many riding in farm trucks, were travelling in convoy towards Bangkok from the rice-growing central plains and were due to reach the city overnight or on Friday.
Reuters Television estimated the number of protesting farmers at between 2,000 and 3,000 in a convoy of as many as 800 tractors, guaranteeing hours of road traffic chaos at least, if the protest had gone ahead.
Then a deal was struck. The Bangkok Post:
After speaking with caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, convoy leader Chada Thaiset said the money would come from this year’s budget, but he could not give details as this was the responsibility of government leaders. He then asked for comments from the farmers. Many expressed doubts as government promises had been broken earlier, but when Mr Chada promised to lead another convoy to Suvarnbhumi if the money was not paid, most agreed to go back home. One group from Lop Buri said they would instead to the Commerce Ministry where another group of farmers has been camping out in protest.
The Bangkok Post on February 21:
About 5,000 farmers, mainly from Uthai Thani, headed back to their home provinces yesterday after being informed by leader Chada Thaiset, a former Chartthaipattana Party MP for Uthai Thani, that the government would start paying next week and that all payments would be made within six weeks.
BP: Then after the deal was struck, we suddenly get some questioning of motives and downplaying of numbers particularly in The Nation, but also by Veera in the Bangkok Post….
The Nation with the headline “Those with ‘hidden agendas’ warned not to take advantage of suffering farmers”:
Farmers, academicians and rice traders have called on all parties, especially politicians, not to play games with farmers, as they have been suffering from delayed payments for rice pledged to the government under the subsidy project.
The farmers should be encouraged to call for their payments as soon as possible, they say.
Thousands of farmers [BP: No longer tens of thousands] travelling to the capital on about 600 tractors in a long convoy on Friday decided to return to their homes in the Central region, including Uthai Thani, Ayutthaya, Sing Buri and Ang Thong, even though they were more than halfway to Bangkok. They had started their convoy on Wednesday.
An observer of a farmers’ protest rally in Bang Pa-in, Ayutthaya, said some security guards who claimed to be part of Chada’s security team persuaded the farmers to go back home. The guards also forbade some farmers not to go ahead to Bangkok, this person said.
The question of why some farmers who wanted to go ahead to Bangkok could not do so remains unanswered, raising another question of whether there is any hidden agenda behind this matter.
“There is political intervention in the farmers’ fate,” said Aat Pisanwanich, director of the Centre for International Trade Studies.
Kriengsak Tapnanont, secretary-general of the Thai Rice Millers Association, said Chada might just have wanted to show his responsibility to Uthai Thani farmers, so he led the group of demonstrators.
Kriengsak said farmers could easily be tricked, as they need leadership as well as some funds to help them live when they eventually do reach Bangkok.
The Bangkok Post:
Meanwhile, speculation was rife in the online community that the farmers could have been used as a front to smuggle in hard-core red shirts to instigate violence in Bangkok.
BP: Indeed, the only conclusion a logical person could come to. Smuggle red shirts in amongst the farmers when there are dozens of journalists covering the protest with cameras and videos. Don’t use cars or other form of transport where you could get to Bangkok quickly and with little attention. Use tractors.
Isra News then of course looked into Chada’s background and told us the obvious, he is rich with a lot of land. A rich MP with land?? Really. Who would have imagined that?
Veera in the Bangkok Post with the headline “Rice farmers ‘conned’ by Chada”:
Chada Thaiseth is known as an influential figure in Uthai Thani and a supporter of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, as proven by his endorsement of the universal amnesty bill.
Outside Uthani Thani, however, when his name is mentioned the first reaction most likely will be “Chada who?”.
The former Chartthaipattana MP from Uthai Thani burst into the broader public limelight this week when he led a colourful procession of about 2,000 rice farmers from several central provinces, complete with dozens of farm trucks. They were en route to Bangkok Friday to demand long-overdue payments for farmers.
Originally, the group planned to rally at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Friday supposedly to put pressure on the government. Mr Chada assured the public and the government that the farmers would not disrupt any services at the airport. He also said they would meet only with caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and nobody else to settle the rice payment issue.
Why Suvarnabhumi Airport instead of the Commerce Ministry, where all the other disgruntled farmers have been gathering? Mr Chada did not explain why and the farmers he led didn’t question his decision either.
But he sternly announced that his famers would not return home until they were all get paid.
Mr Chada and the farmers camped out overnight by the roadside in Bang Pa-in district of Ayutthaya before getting ready to continue their journey to Suvarnabhumi on Friday.
However, critics pointed out something suspicious about Chada’s protest procession. They noted that it was escorted by about five leading police cars which cleared the traffic on the Asian Highway for Mr Chada’s group [BP: Interesting that when all those pictures appeared on Thursday and Friday in the press – see google search showing dozens of pictures with not a police vehicle in sight here – that these vehicles didn’t appear then]. This is highly unusual given the reception other groups of protesting farmers received. They were met either with attempts to block their vehicles, or with tyre-puncturing spikes
Truth is permanent, so it is said. The truth was out on Friday about Mr Chada’s farmers – either they are fake or several of them were duped.
The former MP abruptly told the farmers that he had already met Ms Yingluck, who promised that all of them would get paid next week.
Then the procession was ordered to turn back and head for home. It was not even known whether Mr Chada had actually met the prime minister. When the meeting took place remains a puzzle as the farmers did not question him.
But my guess is that this whole exercise was just a charade to lend moral support to the embattled premier. Anyway, I pity the real farmers among the group who were duped by the ex-MP.
Will they get paid next week as Mr Chada said they would? It seems that only the politician and his co-conspirators know the answer.
Mr Chada warned that he would lead farmers to Bangkok again if the farmers are not paid as promised. But one charade seems to be more than enough for the real farmers.
I wonder how many real farmers he will be able to mobilise the next time he leads another protest march to Bangkok?
Mr Chada reportedly met Ms Yingluck, caretaker Finance Minister Kittiratt na Ranong and caretaker PM’s Office Minister Varathep Rattanakorn on Thursday night.
It was reported that the ex-MP gave the caretaker government a noon deadline yesterday to come up with an answer.
A source close to the meeting said Ms Yingluck turned up briefly and assigned the ministers to work on the problem
BP: This was of course before any deal… It is only later that the narrative was truly questioned…
The Bangkok Post on February 21:
Meanwhile, the Uthai Thani farmers insisted their protest was not politically motivated.
They threatened to come back and seize Suvarnabhumi airport and other government establishments if the government failed to honour its promise.
Chamnian Amthaiboon, 66, of Nong Kha Yang district, said the farmers would come back and go to Suvarnabhumi airport if the money was not paid as promised.
Noklek Phansaithong, 42, a farmer from Sawang Arom district, said the farmers agreed to give the government another chance because Mr Chada gave them assurances.
BP: The farmers want their money, but there are legal problems over the government borrowing money to pay and there are limits to government’s ability to pay them quickly under the Constitution. Hence, unlike say the rubber farmers last year, it is not easy for the government just to allocate enough money to pay all of the farmers instantly so it is not about the government being willing to pay the farmers; it is about the farmers being able to pay them.** For this extra group of farmers to come to Bangkok and to stay puts pressure on the government, but it doesn’t mean the government will suddenly be able to pay them. Therefore, it is not easy to say just coming and camping out in Bangkok is the best strategy in getting paid quickly.
Chada’s motives were obvious from the beginning. Before the deal was struck. The Bangkok Post:
A political observer said the farmer movement in Uthai Thani province was encouraged to travel to Bangkok by Chada Thaiset, a former Chartthaipattana Party MP for Uthai Thani.
The source said that Mr Chada was unhappy with the Pheu Thai Party which fielded a candidate in his constituency in the general election, causing his defeat in the poll.
BP: It is important to point out that Puea Thai didn’t win either of Uthai Thai’s two constituencies in 2011 and that Chada won by a margin of just under 12,000 votes in 2011 (36,180 votes to that of 24,364 of the Puea Thai candidate)*** so if he lost in 2014 there is motivation for him to show to his constituents in Uthai Thani that he has power/connections which can help them. He can also tout his meeting with Yingluck and the promise he received as proof of his gravitas. By first encouraging them to come and then encouraging them to go home, Chada has also put his name on the line and so BP is sure he will pressure the government to to give a higher priority for allocating the monies available to pay Uthai Thai farmers (BP understands that from the rice sales there is some more money each week/fortnight that is flowing into the pot to pay farmers although not enough to pay enough farmers quickly). Then, any farmers who are paid he will be able to claim credit for this (BP doesn’t see this as a con, it is just normal politics) and hence this improves his political standing.
After building up Chada and the farmers he was leading, some parts of the media think he duped farmers. Yes, he used them, but by them, BP means the media. Chada used those same outlets’ dislike of the government against themselves. They built him up and initially didn’t seriously question his motives – aside from in passing – and this coverage provided him with leverage. Of course, once he led the farmers back home he was then fair game amongst these same outlets. Now, you may say that the government promise is empty, but here is a question, what have the other farmer representatives achieved for the farmers they are representing? Some other representatives/farmer groups met with Finance Minister Kittirat and responded by throwing oranges and water bottles at him. Oddly, they haven’t been able to obtain a meeting with Yingluck and extract a specific promise…
Now, the one problem for the government is if they give a higher priority in allocating the monies to farmers in Uthai Thani – from the explanations from the BAAC it is first come, first served in regards to payment (as in the earlier you pledged your rice, the earlier you get paid) so to give priority to Uthani Thai changes this – then this could encourage others like Chada to also start to come to Bangkok to gain leverage to negotiate with the government so they can also get paid. By striking the deal the government has created this incentive, but of course if the government had not struck the deal with Chada’s group being vague about exactly what they would do near Suvarnbhumi airport, people will got nervous about disruptions to flights and damage to the economy from this so the government would have been further hurt politically if it had not struck this deal.
* This doesn’t excuse the government for not handling the issue better and ensuring before the dissolution that everything was in order regarding their ability and capacity to pay farmers.
** That deserves some analysis in itself and shows you how weak some of the third parties are….
*** This result deserves some analysis on its own…