June 08, 2014 00:00
By Chanon Wongsatayanont
Customers seem to be avoiding the Victory Monument and Ratchaprasong areas for fear of conflict
The Victory Monument and the Ratchaprasong intersection, which had been the epicentre of the anti-coup protests and military supervision in the past weeks, seems to be avoided by many people fearing conflict. As a result, businesses of all kinds are taking a hit, despite the junta’s best efforts to create an atmosphere of reconciliation.
At first glance, both areas seem to open for business as usual on a Saturday afternoon, but most stall owners are wearing a frown on what should be their most profitable day. From clothes shops to public transport van service, they said their customer numbers had dwindled by at least a half as a result of the past unrest.
Late last month, soldiers had closed off Victory Monument following a stand-off between soldiers and anti-coup protesters, which ended with an Army Humvee being vandalised. Many shopkeepers believe this was why their businesses were most badly affected.
Chalong Wongkamchan, 40, said that the demand for his public transport van service at Victory Monument had dropped severely. Before the protest, he had around 180 customers a day but since then, he could only find 80. His transport service to Chon Buri was also down from 200 customers to just 100 at peak time.
A clothes vendor at Victory Monument, who refrained from giving his name, said he could usually sell 50-60 pieces of clothing a day before the protests but afterwards, he could only sell around 15 a day. “These days, the vendors look around at each other’s stall to see who is going to survive,” he said.
He suspects that people are scared off by the Army’s presence, as there are about a 100 soldiers and policemen who come to guard Victory Monument every evening.
Yesterday was no different. But in addition to that, there were pro-military images being shown on all the LCD screens around Victory Monument at 5pm, coupled with pro-military and reconciliation music being played on loudspeakers. Even if soldiers and policemen were just standing guard, shoppers and passers-by looked tense.
As part of the first phase of the NCPO’s road map to election, the junta began the “Returning the Happiness to the People” campaign, organising musical concerts, free food, drinks, as well as a barber service at Victory Monument. The objective is to create a ground for the polarised society to reconcile and also improve the image of the Army.
However, the vendors in the area had a cool response to this. A bag vendor, who gave her name as ‘Ning’, said that the Army had blocked the entrance to her stall so she had very few customers that day. The clothes vendor also said that lots of people came to the event but no one visited his shop.
The Army is paying less attention to the Ratchaprasong area when compared to Victory Monument. But McDonald’s at Amarin Plaza that was the gathering point for anti-coup protesters two weeks ago, remained wary. They posted a notice on their door prohibiting politically related activity in the restaurant, but had no plans to close the restaurant today despite rumours of another anti-coup rally.
Business near the Ratchaprasong intersection was also affected, including vendors selling flowers and joss sticks near the Erawan Shrine, a famous site for worshippers and tourists.
Aomjai Maneesup, 29, was one such vendor, who said far fewer people visited the shrine or bought flowers. She said people came to pray at the shrine and left the site quickly, as they were scared of the Army and a potential conflict.
“The Army officials control the area now so it’s safe, but it doesn’t help business. The street is still quiet all the same,” she said.