Before arriving in Bangkok, we only knew of the situation as portrayed in the western media and Internet:
Thai farmers are camping in the streets of Bangkok to show their displeasure with the current Prime Minister. They said he was too liberal and wanted the return of the former Prime Minister. Thaksin, who was elected democratically in 2001, became a victim of a coup during a diplomatic trip and was ousted in 2006. He is known for his pro peasant policies and is behind the first universal social security in Thailand, which allows access to public hospitals for all.
In short, supporters of the former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, are commonly called the Red Shirts. The supporters of the current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, are called the Yellow Shirts.
While traveling around Thailand, we spoke with various locals to try to understand the situation better. We were very surprised to hear a very different message. Some of information that were pointed out to us:
Thaksin, the former prime minister and leader of the Red Shirts, is a businessman who acceded to power in 2001. He was reelected in 2005 when elections reached historical highs for the number of voters. At the beginning of his term, his personal fortune was estimated at 500 million dollars and in five years, it reached 2.5 billion dollars. In 2006, suspicion of corruption began to echo so the Thai military stripped Thaksin of his power and he fled the country.
In February 2008, elections for House of Representative were held and the Red Shirts party won the majority. Thaksin returned to Thailand but flees again in July, before the Supreme Court could convict him of the charges of corruption against him.
The House of Representatives elected a consecutive string of prime ministers who were all close to Thaksin and who all eventually forfeited due to fraud. The Supreme Court finally dissolves the Red Shirts and bans all of its electoral officers of any function for 5 years.
The current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, took office in December 2008. The Supreme Court found Thaksin guilty of corruption and sentenced him to two years of imprisonment.
Today, Thaksin has not served his sentence and remains a fugitive. In addition, an international warrant for his arrest was issued on charges of terrorism linking him to the violent attacks in Bangkok from March to May 2010.
The outstanding question is why were the Red Shirts in the streets of Bangkok protesting? It seems Thaksin had a plot to pay voters (again) to protest for new elections. With the average monthly wage for a Thai farmer being about 70 dollars, it is not difficult to see that the cash incentive is enough motivation to get more voters and protestors.
Also, on the Thai news, they revealed some of the weapons found during cleanup after the riots in the capital. They weapons belonging to the “peaceful protestors” included M16 assault rifles, grenades, and bomb components.
It is overwhelming to try to understand the entire situation, as there is probably more than meets the eye. Could it be Thaksin is a man who truly cares and wants to help the poor, but was mistaken or does he just pay the poor to gain power and to enrich his family?