The two main conflicting groups are the Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts. The Yellow Shirts belong to the People’s Alliance for Democracy while the Red Shirts are supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. The Yellow Shirts are consistent critics of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted from power in a 2006 coup. Most of the Red Shirts are supporters of Thaksin.
The Yellow Shirts adopted the color yellow as their protest color in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the most revered figure in Thailand. But it doesn’t mean the Red Shirts are opposed to the king. The Red Shirts are also not leftists. They adopted the color red just to differentiate themselves from the Yellow Shirts.
The Yellow Shirts accused two prime ministers last year of being puppets of Thaksin. To force change in government, the Yellow Shirts organized provocative street actions last August. They occupied the Government House for several months. They shut down Bangkok’s major airports last December, which crippled travel in the country. The Yellow Shirts agreed to end their protests when a court order disqualified allies of Thaksin from running for public office again.
A few days after the Yellow Shirts declared victory, the Red Shirts began to organize their own street actions. The Red Shirts became anti-government protesters while the Yellow Shirts quietly supported the new government.
The Red Shirts have been effectively replicating the tactics of the Yellow Shirts. The Red Shirts also occupied the Government House a few weeks ago. They were able to gather tens of thousands of protesters in Bangkok. The protesters claim they mobilized 100,000 people on April 8. They were supported by taxi drivers, who used their cars to block traffic at Victory Monument, a busy intersection in Bangkok. During the rallies, Thaksin has been addressing his supporters through a video phone.
The Red Shirts succeeded in forcing the cancellation of a major ASEAN Summit in Pattaya which embarrassed incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. There is now a state of emergency in Bangkok, but the Red Shirts are defiant.
If the Bangkok airport shutdown clinched the victory for the Yellow Shirts, would the botched ASEAN Summit lead to the disintegration of the Abhisit government? The airport crisis gave the Yellow Shirts an opportunity to deliver their message to the world.
The Red Shirts also successfully delivered their message to the world a few days ago when they stormed inside the venue of the summit, forcing the military to whisk away the heads of state of Southeast Asia and other invited Asian leaders by military helicopters. That was a symbolic and surprising victory for the Red Shirts who wanted to portray Abhisit as a leader who is unpopular and incapable of effectively governing the country.
The Yellow Shirts are not active today, but they might stage a comeback again to fight their red-shirted rivals. The Red Shirts are confronted today by a different set of “colored” protesters: the Blue Shirts. The Blue Shirts emerged when the Red Shirts began to mount a serious challenge to the government. First, the Blue Shirts said they only wanted to protect public utilities, like the airport. But the Red Shirts soon accused them of being thugs hired by the government.
In Pattaya the Blue Shirts engaged the Red Shirts in the streets. The Blue Shirts were armed with sticks and iron rods while holding pictures of the king and queen. Journalists reported that the military made no attempt to disarm the Blue Shirts. Most reports have indicated that the Blue Shirts are essentially a pro-government militia with probable backing from politicians loyal to the government.
Which are the most popular “shirts” in Thailand: Yellow, Red or Blue? All of them have core constituencies. They all believe in democracy. They all respect the king. It is difficult to ascertain which has the support of the majority.
It is important to note that an increasing number of Thais are getting annoyed by the political crisis in the country. When the Red Shirts were leaving the summit venue in Pattaya, a group of people wearing black shirts began throwing stones at them. Most likely they were angry citizens. A video was uploaded on YouTube showing how furious pedestrians drove away Red Shirts who were blocking traffic in a Bangkok street.
Perhaps the decision of many Thais to wear “neutral” colors can be interpreted as a political statement too. Twitter users have been expressing their discontent by announcing that from now on they are only going to wear orange, white and purple shirts.
There is another option for Thais: wear pink. The Pink Shirts want a political formation based on love and peace. Pop singer Jintara has a lively music video for the song “Mop see chom-poo” which preaches the doctrine of the Pink Shirts.
The political spectrum in Thailand today is literally bright and colorful. The traditional left, right and center political labels give way to the politics of the multicolored “shirts.” I call it Rainbow Politics. The “colored” protesters may be funny and brave sometimes but their brand of politics is not helping Thailand.