02 June 2010

Case FOR the Red Shirts

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2 June 2010: I sympathize deeply with the good people among the Red Shirt movement (but not with the violent Reds or the Red leaders). These are the decent rural folks from upcountry, the North and Northeast, who had hoped for justice, opportunity and a voice. Video footage of the earlier rallies showed these people in front of the main stage: women, old men, kids and grandmas, smiling and looking sincere and harmless. These were the people who were later shoved aside as the violent Red elements took over.
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The poor and under-represented folks from the provinces have always been systematically shut out from economic empowerment by the corrupt Bangkok elites who control all policy. Massive government corruption has always been the rule in Thailand’s history, and the Bangkok elites have always excelled in blocking and exploiting the poor rural majority by their unholy alliance of political power and economics.
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But it has been slowly getting better for the rural poor in the last couple of decades with more opportunity, education and communications. Once these people understood their potentials and the political obstacles to them, they rightfully demanded a voice.
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Their “voice” ended up being a shrewd billionaire opportunist who sought out and harnessed their votes by promising them the moon. Populist rhetoric and government handouts bought their loyalty and votes. Thaksin became an elite of one, adding to his vast wealth through corrupt political means, and he exploited the poor for his own purposes in that they had vast voting numbers – and “democracy” is just a numbers game that can never guarantee justice by itself without a solid constitution that limits arbitrary power. Thaksin became an autocrat and was finally overthrown in a coup.
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I suspect that many of the peaceful Reds have now had cause to be disillusioned a bit, as many of them certainly witnessed firsthand the uglier thuggish behavior of many of their fellow Reds who are more hardcore and violent. Most of them certainly know now that the claims to be a totally “peaceful,” “non-violent” and “unarmed” movement were blatantly contradicted by the armed and violent Reds in their midst that started to dominate the rally toward the end.
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So, for Bangkok it’s back to business, but what about these people who have always been institutionally shut out? The reforms needed are not redistributions of wealth but rather a leveling of political blocks to economic opportunity. Laws, regulations and customs that give economic monopoly advantages to elites – elites who are politicians, or family of or cronies of politicians – must be abolished.
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There must be constitutional changes that separate economic activity from political power – in the same way, and for the same reasons, as the American separation of church and state. Protect property from force or fraud, protect contracts, but no economic advantages should ever be gained from political power.
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It is about fairness, justice and the radical limitation of political power. But it is also a practical concern: if the legitimate grievances of these good people are ignored, the streets will see red again.
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