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Where are the different colours now?

Posted by pakin On July - 2 - 2014

A month after the military intervened amid a deepening political divide and intensifying “colour-coded” politics, The Nation investigates what has become of the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship and the anti-Thaksin People’s Democratic Reform Committee.

One month after the coup, the fifth floor of the Imperial World Lat Phrao department store is eerily quiet. It used to be the de facto headquarters of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) up until May 22 – the day the military took over.

The office now is dark and locked up. However, as soon as I began peering into the darkness, I was approached by a security guard questioning my intentions.

After handing him my business card, I asked what he thought of the junta’s plan to end coloured-shirt politics and if he thinks the red shirts still exist.

His response was rather conclusive.

“They are no more,” he said looking at me suspiciously.

Soon enough, four military officers in fatigues showed up and began taking photographs. A master sergeant then told me, in a not so pleasant way, that he believed colour-coded politics had gone for good.

“Everything is in order now,” insisted the sergeant, who has been guarding the area since the power seizure.

The place, which used to be the buzzing hub of the red shirts, is now all but abandoned.

Later, I called red-shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn, who was arrested right after the coup and has since been released, to ask if he still considered himself a red shirt and a leader of the UDD.

After much pressing, he eventually conceded, saying he was indeed a red shirt and a UDD leader, before adding that the situation was far from normal. “We’re under martial law so we can’t do anything.”

However, he said he was convinced that the plan by the junta – which operates under the name ‘National Council for Peace and Order’ (NCPO) – to dissolve the red shirts and other political groups would not succeed if all sides are not treated equally.

“In the end, it’s the people who will decide [whether to continue being red shirts or not],” he said.

Red-shirt academic Suthachai Yimprasert, one of those summoned by the NCPO, said the seeming absence of thered shirts in post-coup Thailand was artificially induced and wouldn’t last for too long.

“I don’t think it’s going to work. People’s beliefs cannot be changed at gunpoint. Forcing people not to think will just not work,” he said, adding that everybody in a democratic society should have the freedom to think differently.

Suthachai pointed out that some of the red-shirt leaders who publicly denounced their political identity after being detained by the military were not really telling the truth, because “there is no free will”.

“It’s like goons pointing a gun at you. You just have to say what they want.”

On the other side of the political divide, Tankhun Jitt-itsara, a co-leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), also thinks the scheme will not work.

“It is impossible [to dissolve red or PDRC] identities,” said Tankhun, who spoke at the PDRC protest stage for most of the six-month-long period.

“This will also ruin the opportunity for people to be politically alert,” he said, adding that the real need was not dissolving colour-coded politics, but getting rid of violence and hate speech against those who think differently.

Back at Imperial World, the owner of Post Cafe on the ground floor, insisted that some red were still visiting the mall – though not necessarily going up to the fifth floor or wearing red shirts – and they were still discussing politics.

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