Over the course of recent months, Thai Red Shirts (TRS) has had the opportunity to speak to Red Shirt activists at UDD rallies, political schools, and in their communities around Thailand. Our discussions have provided an honest look into the values and principles that make the Red Shirt movement one of the most popular social movements in Southeast Asia, if not the world. While the West falls deeper into a state of political apathy, the Red Shirts continue to reach out to millions of Thais who are experiencing a political awakening, the likes of which Thailand has never witnessed.
Despite internationally held misconceptions that have been successfully promoted by opposition forces, Red Shirt activists are first and foremost concerned with ensuring a democratic future for Thailand. Without exception, every Red Shirt interviewed by TRS stated that their primary concern was the weak state of Thai democracy. Although the majority of Red Shirt activists are old enough to have experienced many military coups, the coup in 2006 shocked the majority of them into action because it toppled Thailand’s most popular elected figure and brought an end to an unprecedented 14 years of democratic progress.
While it is true that the vast majority of Red Shirt activists voted for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, it is completely unreasonable to argue that this fact somehow undermines the movement’s sincerity in advocating democratic reform. For many Red Shirts, Thaksin’s administration proved that the parliamentary system could be responsive to their needs.
One Red Shirt explained,
Thaksin improved the lives of the lower classes. His policies empowered people.
The proof was in the incredible electoral success of the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party in 2001, 2005 and 2006, the first party in Thai history to carry out a term in its entirety and get re-elected with a majority government. Instead of appealing to the electorate with competing policies, political and social forces opposed to Thaksin decided to attack the intelligence and character of voters who were only guilty of voting according to their interest. According to another activist,
The Democrats don’t give a damn about poor people. They want to return to the old system when they didn’t have to pay attention to the masses.
Although Thaksin is still an important figure for many within the Red Shirt movement, their concerns extend well beyond his potential return to politics, let alone Thailand. The majority of Red Shirts interviewed identified constitutional reform as the movement’s primary objective. The military-sponsored Constitution of 2007 has severely hampered the power of elected representatives.
A Red Shirt activist shared,
The Pheu Thai government is trying to do good things, but the current constitution and the threat of dissolution impedes their ability to do more.
The level of political awareness shown by most Red Shirts immediately discredits the claim that the movement’s ranks are inflated by opportunists looking for a handout. In fact, nearly all the Red Shirts interviewed by TRS were gainfully employed, either as merchants or as farmers, and entrepreneurial. They recognize that a political system which would allow them to advocate their interests democratically is worth fighting for.
The true strength of the Red Shirt movement is its unwavering resolve in its steep uphill battle. Thousands have risked their lives for their ideals and many have laid down there lives. Their determined struggle for a strong democratic Thailand is deserving of the international community’s support and respect.