Thailand: Protesters misunderstood by Western media?

Good news: Airports have been re-opened in Thailand.
Bad news: The political crisis is far from over.

Protesters are still camped inside Thailand’s Government House. They have been demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. The leader is accused of being a puppet of ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Members of People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) are the frontrunners of the protest rallies in Thailand. The group is accused of fomenting chaos and military adventurism. In fact, some have branded it as People Against Democracy because of its proposal for a Parliament in which most of the lawmakers are appointed and only 30 percent elected.

Most of the online commentaries and news reports about PAD are not positive. wonders whether the statements of PAD, and their English translations, are delivered to the global audience correctly.

“There is something wrong with Dan Rivers and CNN. Many details in the articles online contain erroneous info and I've found phrases in English which clearly show they have poor translators working for them. In one very clear example I think it was Dan R. who cut up a quote by Sondhi Limthongkul (leader of PAD) to suggest Sondhi and the movement wants a democracy which would disenfranchise the rural poor—when the full quote is that we need an interim government for a period before holding elections.”

The writer clarifies that PAD is not against democracy; what it opposes is western-style capitalism and its excesses:

“Many news outlets portray PAD as being “not happy” with democracy. PAD is not happy with western style capitalism in Thailand which has grown like a cancer. This kind of capitalism is obviously deeply connected with the debased form of democracy pandered by Thaksin Shinawatra.

“PAD's slogan is ‘toon niyom samarn’ which is like ‘filthy capitalism’ in which you can buy everything and most importantly sell everything including national assets and bring in foreign investors to do what Thai people can do on their own.

“The movement is therefore condemned as being ‘nationalistic’ when in fact it's trying to stop the snowball effect of neocolonialism (economic colonialism). Hyper-nationalism or nationalism (which) leans more towards thinking one's nationality is superior to another—this is not what PAD has ever said”

Then the writer highlights a point missed by mainstream media:

“It's interesting to note, that the Thai idea of democracy at the grassroots level has shades of socialism. In fact many of the key PAD leaders are union leaders which allowed them to shut down the railways and now ports.

“Media in the West has left out the key detail that Thai Muslims are backing this protest as well. Maybe it's a good thing they haven't picked up on it though—before you know it they'll think PAD is a bunch of terrorists.

“Only in Thailand…a movement is 100% supported by the people. PAD gets free food, mobile bathrooms, clothing…everything even ice from volunteers. If they announce on the stage “we need flashlights, batteries, water”—it'll be there soon!”

There are two ways to explain the ability of protesters to sustain their campaign for almost a week already. One, it has genuine support from citizens and organized sectors. It is impressive that railway and airline employees supported the protesters. Second, PAD has financial and political ties to other factions of the elite and military.

How are ordinary Thais and foreign residents coping with the protest activities? Will Yaryan is a bit excited:

“I'll take my binoculars up to the 22nd floor of our apartment building to scan the skyline for signs of action. And I watch news videos of the crisis on one of the local TV stations which provide a bit of information and insight, even if I can't understand the commentary. I've never been in a revolution, coup or putsch before. It's a bit exciting.”

Stuart's Life in Thailand is somewhat clueless:

“The political atmosphere is a huge mess, but away from the protests downtown in the government quarter, life is going on as normal in the rest of Bangkok.

“I have been trying to keep up with what is going on. But as an outsider, this has been a very difficult task. What are the protesters really aiming for? Who is supporting them? Who are the big groups that are struggling for power here? That is basically what this is all about — a power struggle over who will control the country, and the type of government that will have that power.”

A reader of Jamie's Phuket comments about the closure of the Phuket airport:

“Before Friday's action, the PAD had the support of the vast majority of people on Phuket. And now? Well, anyone who depends on the tourism industry for a living would have to wonder. Tourists don't play politics, so it's best not to play politics with tourists.”

Phuket is Thailand’s major tourism destination.

Gnarly Kitty is not amused:

“With the PAD going all crazy and s&#!t, who's going to side them now? And I was thinking, what's going to happen if the PAD doesn't stop this government? I mean, what's the big deal? You did it last time they came back anyway. And look, the more you're fighting, the more people are going to hate you. Just chill man. You're hurting the traffic. And I don't like waking up at 6 in the morning to hear you sing on TV.”

It is good that apology statements are circulating in emails about the inconvenience caused by PAD.

PAD has been criticized for invading a TV station. The attack was viewed as an assault on press freedom:

“Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and the Confederation of Thai Journalists, said: The mob action is one of the gravest and most blatant assaults on media freedom to date. The media was threatened, intimidated and kept from performing their duty.”

But a commenter thinks the government-run TV network deserved it:

“That darn TV station only broadcast government one side talk anyway… it's basically a government public relation channel. If it's fair, both sides should be in a talk show long time ago debating not one way. So the TV news is not a fair play, and deserved the break down like this.”

Prachatai uploads an article written by Pokpong Lawansiri which discusses why PAD is not as popular as before:

“This movement is no longer a broad-based alliance as it was during the anti-Thaksin days in 2006. Civil society groups in the PAD now only comprise a few individuals, not of broad-based networks.

“This is because the PAD no longer mentions issues relating to the welfare of the people. Issues such as the government's policies towards trade liberalisation which are affecting the people; human rights violations such as the case of Tak Bai, or the menacing war against drugs under the Thaksin administration; or issues relating to an attempt to push policy towards the creation of an economic system similar to that of a welfare state.

“The PAD's focus is now on superficial issues, which would not benefit members of the poor or marginalised group”

Real Life Thailand on why the protests backfired:

1) It has not achieved its stated objective;
2) Its fascist behaviour is losing it support.
3) It is actually increasing the popularity and perceived independence of Samak Suntarajev. Samak's calmness and patience during this fiasco is exactly what the PAD did not want. They wanted him to react angrily and threaten force, or start talking about Thaksin. His restraint has won him support.

Yesterday, an emergency session of Parliament was convened. Thailand Crisis is not impressed:

“It’s difficult to imagine how the session of Parliament could solve the political crisis. This is just PR. Nothing more.” accuses PAD of promoting anarchy:

“The PAD is not even a party; it's more like a lobby consisting mainly of members of the Thai elite who are fed up with Samak's politics and who think he's just a puppet of the old (and corrupt) PM Thaksin. Taking the issue in their own hands is therefore not democratic but anarchic.”

Connecting the Dots insists political tensions in Thailand will not subside until Thaksin is punished:

“The unrest in Thailand will continue until Thaksin is out of the picture completely. If he is granted political asylum anyplace in the world, Thailand will still suffer. If Thaksin is unwilling to back down and give up, then someone must step in and do that for him. The Thai courts look to be on that track, and all that needs to be done is deliver Thaksin back to the Thais.”


  • you have the same situation in philippines. lots of protests and political bickering.

  • Edward Scott

    Odd that those involved in the protests didn’t work as hard for a candidate of their choice in the elections.

  • subjectivelistener

    For those being proud of democracy without realising the drawbacks, it is a good lesson.

    People, especially Asians, are too naive to really believe in that democracy is the only route to economic success.

    Remember, China and Singapore are good exceptions of the above claim.

  • Tarong

    “One, it has genuine support from citizens and organized sectors.”

    So funny you said this. Check out

    “According to Mr. Keyes and other scholars, the movement in Thailand is not a broadly popular uprising like those in the Philippines that ousted governments, but rather the product of a relatively small alliance uniting several agendas. It pits a modern middle class allied with supporters of the monarchy against a business and financial elite that is championing the nation’s rural and unskilled poor.” (New York Times)

    This is the paragraph that explains PAD the best. PAD is very different from other countries’ protest: PAD’s protesters is rarely people who directly suffer from the government’s policy. Instead, most of them are middle class and are brainwashed by a few media moguls.

    And a way you justified the retaliation against NBT is very stupid. How about ASTV? Why don’t you talk about it? Don’t say that it is run by a private company so it doesn’t have to be objective.

    Where is your moral standard?

  • […] and its supporters have been protesting in the streets for several months already. They accuse the present Prime Minister of being a puppet of ousted leader Thaksin […]

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