In early 2010, the political situation in Thailand was growing untenable.
Supporters of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra grew more discontent with the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. The Thaksin supporters accused Mr Abhisit of colluding with the military and the courts to disqualify several Thaksin-aligned prime ministers and dissolve the People’s Power Party (PPP) on technicalities.
The protesters had already come out to demonstrate on April 2009 but quick government action ended the movement in six days. Over 120 people were injured in the clash.
It was a sign of things to come.
Weng Tojirakarn (Red Shirt Leader and former Pheu Thai MP): The elected government of Samak Sundaravej was dissolved by the Constitutional Court because he was paid 5,000 baht for hosting a cooking show. The government of Khun Somchai Wongsawat lasted a few days and was dissolved by the Constitutional Court. All of this led to a feeling of injustice.
The UDD [Red Shirt] movement, which was previously known as the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship or DAAD, was established from this feeling of injustice, it is an anti-coup ideology.
There are many people living in this country that hate and are against all forms of military takeovers because they know that the cycle of coup d’état has completely destroyed this country.
Jatuporn Prompan (Red Shirt Leader, MP for PPP and Pheu Thai Party): After Khun Samak had to leave his post, Khun Somchai was only able to enter the parliament for one day before protestors took control of the building.
After that, there was some reshuffling within the party and a government was formed behind closed doors in a military barracks. What emerged was Khun Abhisit’s government.
The government of Abhisit was made up of his Democrat Party and defecting PPP MPs led by former Thaksin protégé Newin Chidchob. Rumours abounded during the time that Newin was forced by the military to side with Abhisit. These rumours have never been substantiated.
Weng: We saw Newin hugging Abhisit and Suthep before the vote. After that it was clear he and his followers would defect.
The Abhisit government was then formed behind the wall of the 1st Infantry’s garrison in Din Daeng.
Many people then went to protest in front of the parliament building on the day of the vote.
Abhisit Vejjajiva (Former Prime Minister and Democrat MP): The day of the vote, all the vehicles coming out of parliament that were on the side that supported me had bricks thrown at them.
The protesters were unhappy with the party dissolution [of PPP] and subsequent change of government. They decided to organize the protest from day one, even before I was appointed formally as Prime Minister.
Unfortunately, they also resorted to violence.
Weng: I was the head of the Peace Unit and I insisted to every co-leader that our way is based on the non-violent path as taught by Mahatma Gandhi. We had his statue on our first rally stage to remind us not to resort to violence.
We wanted [for the world to see] that the Abhisit government was formed behind military walls and what we wanted was for him to resign because he unconstitutionally came to power.
It was during 2009, that angry protesters confronted Prime Minister Abhisit and attacked his car while he was inside it.
Thida Thawornsate (Red Shirt Leader): No one would have dared to take his life. They wanted to chase him off, no one was there to kill him, that would be crazy. They wanted him to resign and dissolve parliament, it had nothing to do with trying to kill him.
Weng: I do not know who might have said what since I was not there but I can guess that there might be some followers who might have yelled [death threats] out of anger. What I know is that none of the UDD leaders have said anything about taking his life.
By January of 2010, the Red Shirts and their leaders looked set for a new round of protests.
Abhisit: As early as the end of 2009, there were already a number of the leaders, on the record, saying that they would be organizing fresh protests and even mentioning that they were going to be in possessions of arms.
Obviously, they started after Khun Thaksin’s assets were seized by the decision of the court.
Thida: No, that is not true. No one went to protest when the court announced that his assets would be sieged. No one, not even a single person.
This is clearly an attempt by Abhisit to frame the Red Shirts as nothing else but Thaksin’s minions. He is trying to devalue the people’s struggle.
He only sees the argument insofar as the Thaksin angle. It is wrong.
There are Thaksin’s supporters within the UDD and there are Yingluck’s supporters within the UDD but did you see the Red Shirts go out to protest following Yingluck’s ruling? No one was there.
Nobody was there because the cases of Thaksin and Yingluck is a separate personal issue from the people’s fight for democracy.
We are talking about the system, not an individual. We are talking about democracy versus Ammatayathipatai system where MPs and senators are appointed by a group of people.
Jatuporn: I have been fighting for democracy since the Black May crackdown in 1992. I even met Khun Abhisit then. This is not about a single individual, it is about democratic principles. It was Thaksin then but with or without him, I would still be in the same fight. I am fighting for democracy today and Mr Thaksin is not around.
The fight for democracy is not about one person.
The protests finally got underway in March of 2010. The protesters took the area around Democracy Monument on Rajdamnern Avenue stretching all the way to Phan Fa Lilat Bridge. Thousands of protesters camped out in the area listening to speeches and calling for the government to resign.
Despite the large number of protesters, the Bangkok middle class and the conservative voices in Thai media accuse the protesters of being paid.
Weng: The best way to discredit the opposition is to say that they are receiving money. This is the easiest, stupidest and most facetious accusation that can be made.
You cannot pay someone enough money to die for something. There is no way. You can never hire someone to go and die. At the start (in 2006), there were hundreds and thousands of followers, how is someone going to pay them all. We believed in a cause.
Fuadi Pitsuwan (Former Security Analyst with the Cohen Group): Even if there [were protesters that were paid], the impact is negligible. Maybe a few were mobilized, but you cannot mobilize people to die if they don’t believe in the cause in the first place.
It’s condescending to think that you can bribe people to die for you. There must be some inner grievances and grudges that these people felt. And I do not think the people in Bangkok and the elites really understand. I never had a full grasp of the extent of it until I spent more time in the rural areas over the past several years.
Umnuay Phantupaisarn (Red Shirt Protester and Retired Civil Servant): The government took advantage of the political situation. They do not have morals or ethics, they did not give liberty to the people.
Normal people in Thailand mostly want justice, equality, and liberty. We came out because we saw there was none of that. No one had to pay us.
Pannika Wanich (Former Future Forward MP, Student at the time): There is this arrogance that people from Bangkok think that the protesters who came out were paid or came just for Thaksin. Or that they were uneducated and tricked into coming somehow. When I met the protesters, I met people who were educated, who knew why they were there and were asking the right questions.
Why is the party I picked, the one that won the most votes, not allowed to form a government?