January 14, 2014 00:00
By Pravit Rojanaphruk
At the end of the day yesterday, somebody asked if the Bangkok shutdown was a carnival. I said "yes and no".
Yes, because many of the protesters – mostly middle-class Bangkokians and folks from the South – appeared to be in a jovial mood.
No, because I witnessed several troubling scenes, such as a trio cajoling fellow protesters to trample on posters featuring caretaker PM Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother Thaksin, and another group delivering a demonising speech that is not fit for print. Of course, I also saw a medical volunteer selflessly handing out balm to help ease people’s fatigue.
Still, things don’t bode well for Thailand as just under the surface of the jubilation, there is speculation about possible violence and bloodshed, as well rumours about who will be behind it.
Also, this is no ordinary “carnival” as both sides test each other’s patience and the economy heads for a sharp decline.
If there are any “winners” of the “shutdown” organised by the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PRDC), it is the BTS Skytrain system, as most of the key rally sites are located near its stops.
Upon visiting the crowd at Asoke intersection, comprised mostly of middle-class Bangkokians, I ran into Dej Poomkacha, a retired NGO leader who was armed with a loudspeaker, whistle and a necktie in the colours of the Thai flag. The 67-year-old was euphoric about the demonstration, saying that many would have been killed by now if the same thing occurred in Cambodia.
“Thai society has changed!” he declared inside Terminal 21 shopping mall, where I could hear him more clearly without the loud whistling. “It doesn’t matter who is in power now. We have gone far enough, and this [shutdown] of Bangkok has educated us about democracy.”
Dej, too, has no idea how this deadlock will end, but has said he will not accept a coup. Another person, an old contact whom I ran into at the same venue, told me that some hardcore MPs from Pheu Thai Party were allegedly hiring armed assassins to attack both the protesters and the police, so there would be a coup. Then, he surmised, the red shirts would rise up to confront the armed forces in a bloody struggle.
Far fetched? Well, some red shirts also told me earlier that they believe the PDRC will be hiring some armed assassins to do just that, so there’s a coup.
Later yesterday, I saw Sumalee Phiewphong, 48, a rubber farmer from the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat having a cup of coffee and scone with her husband at a Starbucks outlet in Siam Centre.
“If it’s a week, it’s okay. If it’s going to take months, then we will have to take turns,” she said, hinting that this was not a carnival, but a test of political endurance for both sides.