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Thailand's Red Shirts a national presence, not just northern

Thailand's Red Shirts a national presence, not just northern
Published 30 Jan 2014 

The final sentence in last weekend's Financial Times report on developments in Thailand caught my eye when it referred to a Red Shirt supporter in Chiang Rai who is 'an accountant'. It was not a surprise to me that a 'professional' should be noted as a pro-government Red Shirt. After all, I drew attention to the mistaken tendency to label all Red Shirts as being drawn from the ranks of the 'poor' in a 2011 Interpreter post.

Rather, the FT report emphasised that there has been too little attention given in recent reporting about Thailand to the social diversity of the Red Shirts' support beyond their undoubted strongholds in the north and northeast of the country.

A 2007 electoral results map prepared by the highly respected historian and political commentator on Thai issues, Chris Baker, and republished recently in New Mandala, makes this point. While the map shows solid support for the Democrats (the political party linked to the Suthep Thaugsuban-led Yellow Shirt protest activities on Bangkok's streets) in the south, it is clear that Red Shirt supporters, then grouped as the People Power party, registered strong support in areas on the periphery of the capital and in provinces close to it. [fold]

There is little reason to think that this support has changed since 2007, as a recent article in New Sentinel makes clear. In the judgment of the anonymous author, one-third of Bangkok's electoral seats were held by Red Shirt supporters while the ruling Pheu Thai party was also supported in the newly industrialised regions east of the capital on the Gulf of Thailand.

The same article draws attention to the strength of feeling in the north and northeast associated with the previous Lanna kingdom, which was only fully integrated into Bangkok-ruled Thailand in the nineteenth century, suggesting this plays a part in contemporary politics.

As an interested observer rather than a specialist on Thai politics, I am hesitant to make too much of this point. But as a regular visitor to northern Thailand I have been struck by what might be called 'local nationalism' in cities such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, with much emphasis placed on the glories of the period before Lanna fell under the control of Bangkok.

Photo by Flickr user Ratchaprasong.

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