Thailand: 19 May and after
Come early evening Truth Today - (a Red media organization which was a reaction to the coup of 2006) reported 42 dead and 361 wounded. The numbers may have been much higher had the army charged in with armoured personnel carriers and heavy, sustained gunfire. Nevertheless the operation has come at the cost of more than lives and wounds. The protests have ended in blood. Accounts and pictures have spread across the country. It has become instant mythology, the narrative, the history people use to shape their identities and frame their grievances and aspirations in a changing Thailand in which the consciousness, the sleeping resentment and entitlements of the masses have now well and truly awoken. Militia fighting, quite likely to their deaths, in Siam Square may well become heroes, legends to inspire others. Dozens of buildings are burning across Bangkok and in provincial capitals. Thai flags are reportedly being burned in Chiang Mai. Is this the end of the beginning?
Those who unconditionally condemn the red shirts need to ask themselves a few questions. Why did this protest attract so many people and stretch on for so long with relatively little violence until the end? Why, as the soldiers approached, were 5,000 people willing to remain in the encampment, announcing they were ready to die?
Yes, perhaps camaraderie and a siege mentality helped keep many protesters behind the barricades until the bitter end. But one still has to ask, why do so many ordinary Thais feel so desperate about the situation that they're willing to sacrifice their lives? Why, even in the final days, were people on the roadsides cheering on the red shirts and jeering the security forces? Why are people in so many provincial towns now destroying government property?
The easy answer traded among those who oppose the red shirts is that they are stupid, uneducated and paid by Mr. Thaksin. This thinking is a way of avoiding questions about what has been happening in Thai society over the past generation, a way of plugging one's own eyes and ears. But it leads nowhere—or to another May 19, sooner or later.
Unfortunately, although Prime Minister Ahibsit has called for "reconciliation" -- which my U.S. ears can't help but hear as "get over it" -- he hasn't scheduled new elections, even though that offer was on the table before 19 May -- which, if he thought his party would win, he would surely do.
So there we are. A continuing crisis of legitimacy, unless and until the King intervenes, which he has shown no sign of doing.
NOTE As usual, I defer to MsExPat on everything!