50 shades of yellow: how conservatism overwhelmed liberalism in the anti-Thaksin movement

« 50 shades of yellow: how conservatism overwhelmed liberalism in the anti-Thaksin movement » by Kanokrat Leertchoosakul, 01/08/2018, New Mandala

« Of the 100 PAD members I interviewed, 76 had previously never actively participated in a political movement. 63 had not even followed political news before their foray into protesting with the yellow shirts. »

At its incipience, the movement against Thaksin Shinawatra (and his subsequent nominee governments) compromised a motley—even contradictory—crew of groups loyal to diverse ideologies and political standpoints. This is a history now easily forgotten. They ranged from conservatives genuinely opposed to democracy and bent on defending nationalism and monarchism, to factions who mobilised to defend democratic ideals and who were resolutely wary of nationalism and royalism.

During the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s (PAD) early days, most of the movement’s conservatives members constituted the rank and file. In contrast, several leaders who exercised managing authority over protest sites came from liberal backgrounds. As one anonymous leader of the movement in Udon Thani remarked, “The Rajabhat rally was organised [by liberals] because we had experience in managing crowds. No one else did”. How was it that this heterogeneous network eventually mobilised down a progressively conservative direction, whereby royalist, nationalist and anti-democratic forces overwhelmed the movement?

I argue conservative mobilisation strategies married two previously disparate networks: first, scattered right-wing groups and second, an apolitical middle-class mass. Right-wing networks, once weak and diffuse, were brought together by the need to mobilise a popular base and in doing so forged a relatively united front. Simultaneously, these right-wing leaders attracted through the discourse of “Threat, Big Crisis, Action Is Needed Now” (ภัยคุกคาม-วิกฤตครั้งใหญ่-ต้องทำอะไรเดี๋ยวนี้) the support of members of the middle-class who had never before participated in a political movement—who were subsequently “politically awakened”.

When these two networks coalesced, conservative elements overwhelmed the movement against Thaksin in terms of numbers, bargaining power and resources, progressively squeezing out liberal elements. I base my genealogy of how the movement against Thaksin took on a conservative zeal—something that we may now take for granted—on interviews with 100 people who once mobilised against the tycoon-cum-politician. Interviewees came from 13 provinces across four of the country’s regions.

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