To commemorate the coup of 2006 that deposed Thaksin and set democracy back in this country, the dissenting forces otherwise known as Red Shirts are planning peaceful demonstrations from Friday until Sunday. In response the Prime Minister has vetoed a plan that would have given amnesty for "general protestors" who took part in the civil unrest of April and May. The timing of this almost guarantees a weekend that will end badly.
5000 police and military troops are "on standby" in Bangkok and Chiang Mai and and demonstrators are estimated to be around 10,000, gathering to place flowers and release balloons in front of prisons that hold political dissidents. It all sounds very placid and peaceful.
But this is a country teetering on a flashpoint. Schools in Narithiwat, the Southern province where two teachers were recently assassinated, are either half empty or half full, depending on the level of optimism that looks at it. The Bangkok Post headline reports "half full."
In the same paper, an op-ed column discussing income disparity in the Kingdom says the "average self-employed household in the Northeast earns about 58,000 baht annually." For self-employed read farmer--there is no indication of the average number of people in this average household, but the income averages out to 4833 baht per month, which is $161.11.
In that same area of the country, "the provinces," another columnist in the same issue of the paper reports there is one doctor per 5,316 people. Another discusses a temple recently built in one of Thailand's "poorest provinces that cost 300,000 million baht to build. This, the columnist Sawai Boonma says, "troubles me when I compare it to my experience in fundraising to promote reading in elementary schools and to repair school toilets."
Is there any connection between these columns and the protests of this past spring and those coming up this weekend? Who knows? Not this farang--I could never presume to attribute causes for civil unrest in a country not my own.
But yesterday I walked down a major thoroughfare where I saw a large truck frozen in traffic. The back of it was filled with seated men, all wearing olive green uniforms and purple neck scarves. Some of them sported berets tipped at rakish angles; most of them were middle-aged. All of the faces I saw looked hard and grim. The usual Thai capacity for camaraderie and joie de vivre was nowhere in sight and as I looked at these men, I decided this is a splendid weekend to stay home, edit, and practice the fine art of avoidance.
In the next few days, this will not be the Land of Smiles.