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A Week in Review: September 18-24, 2010

Is greed colour blind?

In a week that ended with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) announcing a new campaign aimed at teaching children in its schools to be less selfish and more considerate of others, there were ample examples of exactly why such a step is long overdue in Thailand. Find out what they were here…

Last Sunday saw the return of the red shirts – a group of individuals who not only admit that their leader is one of the most corrupt politicians in Thai history, but also demand that he be brought back to continue his rape of the country without serving the prison sentence that he has been running away from for longer than the length of the sentence.

The main red rally was at the Ratchaprasong Intersection in Bangkok, where the same red-shirted protesters had brought the city to its knees and denied thousands of people the chance to go about their daily lives and earn a living just a few months’ earlier.

Having made a string of demands and then made new strings of new demands each time the previous strings of demands had been met, the reds embarked on an orgy of destruction that included burning several buildings to the ground – one of the most notable of which was the Central World shopping mall whose burnt out skeleton still stands as a stark reminder of their destructive actions right next to where they once more gathered.

Seemingly oblivious to the traumatic effect that their presence in Bangkok has on the silent majority of ordinry citizens, the reds claimed to be marking the fourth anniversary of the coup d’état that toppled their leader as well as honouring the 91 people who died during the 10 weeks of their increasingly violent protests between March and May of this year.

The fact that Thaksin was toppled in a bloodless and popular coup because of his massive corruption and manipulation of the constitution to create a dictatorship was an inconvenient truth that they chose to overlook, as was the fact that as many as a quarter of those who died during this year’s protests were killed by red shirt supporters.

The latest red shirt rallies in Bangkok and a number of other cities across Thailand are seen as a worrying sign by many that the red shirt movement is regrouping. What is more worrying is that anyone is genuinely surprised by this. Since the clampdown that removed them from the streets of Bangkok in May, the red shirts have been left to fester in their juices – albeit out of sight and out of mind of the middle and upper classes.

While there has been much talk of reconciliation and narrowing the social divide, there has been very little action to back up this hollow rhetoric. With the mostly rural poor reds defeated and their leaders behind bars, the middle and upper classes have blissfully gone back to ignoring them – except when they need someone to clean their house or look after their children. But – as the BMA hopes to teach many young Thai children – ignoring a problem is not the same as solving it.

The red shirt foot soldiers may have been exploited and manipulated to protest by unscrupulous leaders, but it was only possible because of the suffering caused by centuries of exploitation and manipulation by the middle and upper classes.

Finally, if any further evidence were needed about the need for the BMA’s campaign, look no further than the recent leadership fiasco at Phuea Thai.

With no real power, Yongyuth Wichaidit is nothing more than a puppet leader – but that is exactly why so many factions within the party want to keep him there. The Nation revealed that last week was in fact the fourth time during his enforced 2-year reign that Yongyuth had unsuccessfully tried to quit as Phuea Thai leader. On this occasion, his attempt to step down even had the temporary support of party de fact leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who – according to The Nation – was ‘toying with the idea of reconciliation’ to help his own cause and therefore considering bringing in the pro-royal Kowit Wattana.

However, while Yongyuth would happily step aside to let another Phuea Thai MP take up the role of prime minister if the party forms the next government, Kowit would want to retain the top spot for himself. Kowit was, therefore, unacceptable to many of the factions within Phuea Thai who want to see their own leaders become prime minister one day. After intense lobbying, Thaksin was persuaded to force Yongyuth to remain in charge.

The Nation also reported that after the reappointment of Yongyuth, reconciliation efforts continue behind the scenes – but Thaksin has refused to stop inciting his supporters because he feels that cutting ties with Phuea Thai and the red shirts would not benefit him personally. Some of Thaksin’s key conditions for supporting reconciliation efforts are an amnesty for all red shirts charged with terrorism, reinstatement of all banned politicians and the quashing of any legal cases processed during the time of the coup-led government.

It is perversely ironic in a seemingly collective society that values the principles of being graeng jai (considerate of others’ feelings) that selfishness and corruption are such ubiquitously-accepted moral standards.

Paul Snowdon – September 25, 2010

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