I came to Bangkok for my annual medical checkup, despite the deadly confrontations last Tuesday. On Thursday afternoon, I inadvertently shopped my way through two of the Shutdown Bangkok, Restart Thailand protest sites. I’m told that the demonstrations really get going during the evening hours, spending the daytime in a holding pattern. By 4:30pm at a protest site in the midst of Bangkok’s Chitlom shopping mall cluster, the stage was busy with speakers, singers and a rock band, ignored by all but a handful of the hundreds of protestors in the tent village under tall temporary roofs. The stage scenes were broadcast around the protest sites, extending to the dozens of vendors selling tee-shirts, bags, whistles, even tents, a veritable street fair in the middle of what would normally be some of Bangkok’s busiest streets.
Walking through the protest area, a profound sense of sadness swept over me. It’s not only that the opposition’s proposals to break the power of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and oust his sister and proxy Yingluck Shinawatra, are predicated on thwarting democracy, since the opposition can’t win at the ballot box, and that neither side seems ready to respond to what other observers say is the end of Thais’ willingness to tolerate rule by their purported betters.
I hoped that Tuesday’s deadly violence, including the explosion of a grenade in front of a police line and gunfire from both sides that left five dead and dozens injured, would have woken up leadership. I hoped they’d ask themselves whether the nation shown on that stunning BBC footage of the grenade explosion was Thailand they wanted to live in and the one they want the world to see. My old Thai hand friends assured me that the leaders don’t care about such things. Friday night’s explosion at a protest site, injuring six, and Saturday’s night’s attack on an anti-government rally in eastern Thailand indicate my friends understand the situation better than I do.
What made me sad at the Bangkok protest sites was the unseriousness of the scene, despite the specter of violence and the high stakes. Reforming Thailand’s basic governing institutions is difficult and serious work and it won’t get done sitting in a tent in the middle of a boulevard or selling key chains any more than it will by throwing grenades. Shutdown Bangkok is no way to run a revolution.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.