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Elites versus the grass-roots is a dangerous myth

Those seeking to portray the protests as a battle between rich and poor are missing the truth: most Thais are united by frustration with corrupt govt

In a repeat of November 24, hundreds of thousands of people are out on the streets protesting against the Yingluck government. And once again, foreign media are portraying the protests as part of a conspiracy by the elite to overthrow a government elected by the people.

Bangkok's elite and middle classes have been cast in this same role by overseas press ever since Thaksin Shinawatra was first targeted for street protests. This view of events ignored the corruption scandals, tax-evasion charges and strong suspicions that his government enacted laws to benefit his own telecom businesses. Now the same interpretation has been wheeled into place for the protests against the government led by his sister Yingluck.

This time round the foreign media are ignoring the government's attempts to pass an unjust blanket-amnesty bill and alter the charter to extend its power in Parliament. They ignore a wrongheaded economic policy and widespread corruption in the corridors of power. In reality, the current protest is not about a class struggle or a power struggle. This is tens of thousands of citizens furious over misrule.

Portraying the protest movement as purely a political game ignores the wider perspective: a people's struggle against the state. Protesters are on street first and foremost to voice their opposition to this government.

They no longer care so much about who is leading the protest. Many dislike Suthep Thaugsuban and others are no fans of the Democrat Party from which he comes. Some are simply Facebook "friends" expressing their frustration with the government. The volunteer spirit is strong, with many bringing food and water to share. Most are ordinary people who have no personal political or business interests. Their only connection with fellow protesters is a shared discontent with their rulers.

Echoing this truth is academic Thirayuth Boonmee, a respected political activist who, at a press conference on Thailand's future yesterday, said that this was a "people's revolution", a "whistle-blowing coup" made by the people, who have every right to "topple their tyrannous government". Thirayuth noted that the campaign had expanded into the provinces, where more people are showing anger.

Thaksin has always used a poor-versus-rich story, casting himself as the champion of the downtrodden. Ironically, he used it just after having Bt46 billion of his wrongfully acquired assets seized by the courts in February 2010. Soon the red shirts arose with Thaksin as their symbolic head. That "battle" ended tragically at the Rajprasong intersection.

The picture is a different one today. The red shirts are now supporting the government, while the noisy protesters are seeking to bring it down. They may comprise mainly middle-class citizens but they share the same goal as the poor. They are fed up with the endemic corruption that has left Thai politics trapped in a vicious circle. Corruption breeds military opportunism, which in turn brings bloodshed. A new election is called and the cycle starts again.

Take out the colour of their shirts and Thais of all social strata share the same wish - to escape this political vicious circle.

The myth of a battle between the Bangkok establishment and a democratic government is concealing a crucial truth: the sincere wish of most Thais for a clean and accountable democracy.


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