One year after the bloody military crackdown on the red-shirt protest that ended on May 19, its unintended consequences that still reverberate today.
Photo: AP/Sakchai Lalit
Protesters rally for the "Red Shirt" anniversary at Ratchaprasong Intersection in Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday, May 19, 2011. The Red Shirt protesters marked the first anniversary of the army's crushing of a two-month-long Red Shirt protest in central Bangkok, the most violent incident in political unrest that has wracked the country since Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup.
Those among the established elite who thought a bloody suppression of their opponents - which led to 92 deaths on both sides, but mostly red shirts, and left more than a thousand injured - had succeeded should rethink.
Red shirts are now even more critical, energised and full of angst against the old established elite who they believe have orchestrated all the political manipulations from behind the scenes over the years, but especially since the 2006 military coup.
If anything, with tomorrow marking the first anniversary of the crackdown, many red shirts appeared more resolved to fight on, not just for their political idol, ousted and convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, but for equal political and social rights, and for the loved ones whom they lost on the streets of Bangkok a year ago.
A year after the deaths, not a single case has been solved. Not a single person has been put on trial. And frankly, nobody expects the end of impunity any time soon, with the military now carving a greater role with a bigger budget in its self-appointed task of defending national security and the monarchy.
By now a large part of the anger and resentment have been channelled underground because of laws restricting freedom of political speech such as the Computer Crime Act and lese majeste law. With strings of arrests under both laws over the past year, red shirts have learned to speak about politics through the use of metaphors, coded words and innuendo.
And with red-shirt leaders such as Red Power editor Somyos Phrueksakasemsuk and Surachai Sae-darn in jail under the lese majeste law, many red shirts, rightly or wrongly, have become fully convinced that they do not truly enjoy equal political rights or the right to express their views and convictions.
This writer has never witnessed so many people exhibiting such a level of anger and hatred against the established elite and harbouring a heartfelt sense of double standards and political injustice since he began working with this newspaper nearly two decades ago.
The red shirts may not be sure if they can fully trust Thaksin's Pheu Thai Party, but they feel they have no choice but to entrust their fate, and their votes, in its hands.
Shortly after the May crackdown last year, Thai society saw the emergence of Red Sunday leader Sombat Boon-ngam-anong (aka Bor Kor Lai Jued) as a political player who staged innovative and peaceful gatherings and activities in defiance of the emergency decree. When he was briefly detained without charge, Sombat became even more visible. Today, his often-updated Facebook status is like a virtual political school, operating non-stop and educating middle-class reds.
Another unintended consequence of the continued crackdown is the greater international attention paid to those affected by draconian laws. Prachatai.com director Chiranuch Premchaiporn and Thammasat University historian Somsak Jiamteerasakul are two examples.
Late last year, Chiranuch, who is in charge of the left-leaning and red-shirt-sympathising Prachatai.com, was charged under the computer-crime law for not removing quickly enough alleged lese majeste comments that she didn't make herself. She faces a maximum combined 50 years of imprisonment. Prachatai.com is now an international poster boy for the struggle for freedom of political expression in Thailand.
Similar unintended consequences befell red-shirt historian Somsak, who was last Thursday propelled to the front page of the International Herald Tribune after he was charged under the lese majeste law because of two of his articles. The paper described him as an "obscure" historian. Not any more.
Society is very complex, and when actions not accepted as fair are committed, they often lead to unintended consequences.