The recent change in government in Thailand does not signal an end to the country’s long standing political problems. Although the yellow-shirted protesters achieved their aim, they have now been replaced by red-shirted protesters. So, who are the yellow shirts and red shirts and what does it all mean for visitors to Thailand?
In simple and very broad terms, the yellow shirts are those opposed to former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies. The red shirts are supporters of Thaksin and his policies and include a large proportion of working-class and rural-based Thais. The stronghold of the red shirts tends to be in the north and north-east of Thailand whilst the yellow shirts have a power base which is southern-based. Significantly, the yellow shirts also have many influential backers amongst Bangkok’s elite. Naturally, it’s more complicated than this simplistic explanation and for those interested in the ins and outs, please check the politics thread on this site.
What Does it Mean for Tourists?
Thailand’s political divide shows no sign of healing in the immediate future with the yellow-shirted protesters having now been replaced by the red-shirted protesters. The protests remain an internal political issue and are not aimed at tourists. The country remains welcoming to visitors and everyday life goes on as normal. The overwhelming majority of tourists are unlikely to see any signs of political strife other than what they may see on Thai television. With a worldwide credit-crunch and a domestic economy reliant on exports and tourism, Thailand can ill afford more airport closures. The government know that and, hopefully, so do the protesters. Logic and Thailand doesn’t always go hand-in-hand, but most local analysts are ruling out the prospect of any more disruption to Thailand’s airports. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that there will be more protests in one form or another by the red shirts against the newly formed government. Recent protests by the red shirts have mainly been around Government House in Bangkok with a few sporadic demonstrations in some provincial areas including Chiang Mai.
Should I Avoid Wearing a Red or Yellow Shirt?
For somebody who isn’t Thai you shouldn’t need to worry about the colour of your shirt or dress and it will be of no concern to most Thai people what colour clothing you choose to wear. However, if you really want to ensure you don’t upset one side or the other, avoid yellow and red shirts! For Thai people however, it is a serious issue and one that has caused a lot of upset. The colour yellow was once proudly worn by Thais of all political persuasions as a sign of allegiance to the Thai king. Traditionally, yellow shirts are worn on Monday, but since the political divide there has been a noticeable drop in the number of Thais wearing yellow on a Monday. The love and loyalty to the Thai monarch remains in place, but increasingly pink and sky blue are becoming the colours of neutrality. On the other side of the coin, there are large numbers of Thais who support English football clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. The common factor is that all of these teams play in red and as ridiculous as it may sound to readers in the West, it is a real dilemma for supporters who still wish to show allegiance to their team but don’t want to be wrongly accused of supporting one political group over another.
The Yellow Shirts
The yellow shirts made international headlines at the end of 2008 with the closure of Bangkok’s two airports. Television viewers around the world were shown images of the occupation of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport by what appeared to be an eclectic mix of individuals. The main distinguishing feature was the yellow shirts worn by the protesters. This colour was adopted by the protesters to show their allegiance to the king, with yellow being the king’s colour because of the date of his birth.
In the build up to the September 2006 military coup that saw prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra removed from office, there had been pressure put on Thaksin and his policies by a group called the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The PAD were not a political party, but were a political pressure group formed by individuals concerned by the power wielded by Thaksin and the direction he was taking Thailand. PAD had some influential backers including those with links to the media, army and Royal Palace. The supporters of the PAD adopted the yellow shirt. This is significant because yellow is the colour associated with Thailand’s king and PAD were showing that they were a staunchly royalist movement. As well as the corruption allegations launched against Thaksin, there were allegations from PAD that Thaksin had a republican agenda. Whether this was true or not, it became a rallying call for the new movement and one of the main reasons PAD were able to bring so much pressure to bear on Thaksin and his government and helped to bring about the catalyst for the 2006 coup. PAD re-emerged early in 2008 in response to the election of a new pro-Thaksin government. The well-funded and well organized protests culminated in the occupation of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports at the end of 2008. When the pro-Thaksin government was disbanded by the Thai legal system, the yellow shirts celebrated and finally ended their campaign of protests. However, with the formation of a new government came fresh protests; this time from a group that has become known as the red shirts.
The Red Shirts
The red shirts are angry that the former government that they supported was forced to relinquish power as a result of a legal ruling by the Thai courts. The red shirts have called this a ‘judicial coup’ and a ‘silent coup’ and they see the hand of Bangkok’s traditional and elite power base at work including important figures in the army. The PAD movement have powerful friends in high places and the red shirts have been incensed by what they see as collusion between the new government and the PAD leaders who occupied Government House for months before another illegal sit-in resulted in the closure of Bangkok’s two airports. This was further exacerbated by the appointment of controversial Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya, who openly supported the PAD protesters during their occupation of Bangkok’s airports.
Two dominant groups – UDD (United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship) and DAAD (Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship) are behind the red shirt movement. They have demanded that the new Democrat led parliament be dissolved because it hasn’t been democratically elected. They are also demanding legal action be taken against the leaders of the PAD movement.