Front Lawn at Government House
After going to the pro-government rally the other day organized by the DAAD (see my earlier article on thai-blogs.com), I thought I should try and make an effort and see what the opposition were up to at the Government House. They have been occupying this area for nearly two weeks now and I thought that I would take this opportunity to explore the building and garden which is normally off-limits to the general public. This first picture show the beautiful lawn and garden at the front of Government House which is normally used to welcome foreign dignitaries. With all the heavy rain we have been having recently, it wasn’t long before this whole area became a sea of mud. They at first put down some broken roofing tiles to walk on. Then they put down some boards and packing cases. Tents are up everywhere to shelter the protestors from both the scorching sun and unrelenting rain.
Boards covering the mud and the new Rice Field
Recent polls have shown that the majority of Thai people are bored with the protests and rallies and just don’t want to take sides. However, that doesn’t stop the curious in going to the protest site to be part of an historic event. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the politics of the PAD leaders or not. Many of them just wanted their photo taken in various locations just to tell their grandchildren that they were there. You don’t need to wear yellow shirts, as you can buy yellow scarves and head bands for about 20-35 baht. One person I spoke to said that he put on a yellow shirt on purpose just to come and take a look at the rally. He said that he didn’t believe in their politics but felt that he would be safer wearing yellow. He went on to say that these days he is hesitant about wearing yellow as it no longer stands for the king. Yellow is now for the anti-government supporters.
An old hermit at one of the entrances to the site
We approached the protest site from the north on Ratdamnoernnok Road. However, we didn’t get much further than the intersection just south of King Rama V’s statue. Ahead of us was a barricade of tyres and barbed wire. We decided to turn right and try and go around the block to approach the site from the West. We ended up parking near The Education Ministry and walked towards the now infamous Makkawan Bridge next to the United Nation buildings. This whole area has been blocked off. This is where we went past the first checkpoint. There were PAD guards on duty here checking the bags of people wanting to enter. We had no problems and just walked in. It was like entering a lawless land as law enforcement was in the hands of these PAD guards. During our entire visit, we never saw any policemen anywhere near the protest sites. So much for Samak’s plan to surround them. We were now entering the Wild Wild West.
PAD supporters pose for the camera
It wasn’t actually as bad as that sounds. It was a bit like visiting a temple fair through the back door. On either side of the road were set up tents and people were either sleeping or watching the rally speeches on television sets. Laid out on the road, vendors were selling souvenirs and snacks. The only thing that was missing were the fairground rides. The Makkawan Bridge rally stage was still set up but there was no-one there giving a speech. Instead they had a large screen that showed live pictures from the nearby Government House. This was our destination. It was easy to find as we just followed the crowds and noise. But, that turned out to be a mistake as this took us in circles from one speaker system to the next. The problem with Government House is that there isn’t one area large enough to hold the entire rally. So, people were camped all around the various buildings in every available space. There was no need for them to be at the main stage if they could hear it and see it on the television sets. After about four or five minutes of walking around we finally approached the main area.
The outside brodcast van belonging to NBT abandoned at the site
I was hoping we would be able to go into one of the buildings but they were all firmly locked. Signs up around the site asked people to protect the property belonging to the country. However, that didn’t stop them from vandalizing this outside broadcast unit belong to NBT channel. The PAD supporters stormed the NBT studio the other week trying to close it down as they claimed, probably rightly, that it was a government mouthpiece. But then, their own ASTV is very one sided too. On the way out, we later passed a police paddy wagon that also had been vandalized. The tyres had been slashed and windows smashed. Both of these vehicles had graffiti on them. On the side of the paddy wagon was a giant wanted poster with pictures of Thaksin and his wife.
The supporters at the PAD rally listening to speeches
Around the front of the Government House there were many more tents with people sleeping or going about daily life as much as they could. No-one seemed bothered that I was taking pictures. In fact, some even asked if I could take their photo. The main audience facing the stage was actually smaller than it looked on t.v. But the crowd was avidly following the speeches and every now and then they would use their automatic clappers to show their agreement. Morale seemed high. The newspaper articles recently gave the impression that people were wet, tired and wanting to go home. But, that wasn’t the impression that I got. We were also anticipating a bad smell of urine, but quite amazingly they seemed to be on top of everything. The garbage bins were sorted so that they could easily recycle the rubbish. There were first aid tents for the injured and canteens serving up free food and drinks. Even though we were strangers, we were offered food and drink.
PAD Guards, armed with iron rods, search people at a checkpoint
As we left we had to pass through three different checkpoints. For most of my time at the rally site, I was never worried about my personal safety. After all, there were families there and everyone was enjoying the party-like atmosphere. However, we had a scary incident at this second checkpoint. As we approached, we could see that a guy on a motorcycle had been stopped by PAD guards. They were asking him to open up the seat so that they could check inside. Obviously he had no choice. Just take a look at that guard who is holding an iron rod. As we walked past them a couple of the guards was taking this poor guy into the grounds of the government house through a small gate. I didn’t think too much of it at the moment, but it did look a bit strange in the way they were acting. I had walked away about 15 metres then I decided to turn back just to see if this guy was alright. My instinct was right. Through the railings I could see him being beaten twice with the iron rod and I could hear him crying out. I don’t know what his crime was, but these guys were intending serious bodily harm. Before I could do anything, one of the guys on my side of the fence spotted me and then turned around to say something to the guy with the iron rod. I just stood my ground staring at them. I know it was stupid to interfere like this but I was on automatic pilot. Anyway, it had the desired effect and a few seconds later the guy was released and I saw him leave and get on his motorcycle. If I was Thai I am sure that would have ended very differently.
Wanted poster for Thaksin and his wife on a paddy wagon
I was going to conclude this article on the rally today by saying that the PAD organizers had done a wonderful job at controlling the crowd and the guards. But, after seeing this small incident, it brought it home to me that this is really the Wild Wild West. These PAD guards are militants and they wouldn’t think twice about causing bodily harm. The police were given a hard time by the press for being too harsh on these guys. But, in my mind, if the police had done their job properly, right at the beginning, then we wouldn’t have come to this situation now. I didn’t really want to take sides, but I must admit I am now leaning towards the pro-government supporters. However, both sides have their militants and they are all as bad as each other.
If you are visiting Bangkok on holiday I would strongly urge you not to visit any of the protests sites. Although most people were very friendly to me, this whole area could quickly turn into a battle zone if the police or army decides to try and regain control of the seat of government. This could happen at any time. I have no doubt that they will defend this site with their life and will kill before they let the police defeat them. The days ahead certainly don’t look good. If you want up-to-date news of all the latest events then please visit the News Forum at www.ThailandQA.com.