Thailand’s protests: An Op-Ed by Dr. Dion Peoples

I’ve been ‘aware’ of Thailand since I was an intelligence-analyst in the US Air Force, stationed in Germany, around early 2001. I watched on CNN as Thaksin Shinawatra was expected to win the elections, and immediately I felt I did not like this guy. I would soon leave the USAF after a decade of service, to become a fully-ordained world-renouncing Theravada Buddhist-monk. I’ve taken keen interest in Thailand’s political turmoil. I witnessed the horror of the daily killings on the mid-2000′s, when Thaksin Shinawatra’s police force was killing some 2600 people without trials, merely on the suspicion that they were drug users or sellers, we all witnessed the horror of the Tak Bai incident and Krue Se mosque episode where innocent Muslim-men were killed by Thaksin Shinawatra’s extended-arm. The nation’s spirit was leaving, it was being corrupted by populist-schemes and behind-the-scenes politics. Thaksin Shinawatra’s final straw was when he sold off his telecommunications company to a foreign-group tax-free. He’s exploited Thailand for his own personal benefit. The 2006 Army Coup was the attempt to restore Thailand to normalcy, and after an appointed Prime Minister, who did little besides appeasing former communists and advocating for the King’s Sufficiency Economics (a subject I teach in my Buddhist Economics lectures), the next few “democratically-elected” governments were party-minions of the Thaksin regime, including his brother-in-law and another close associate who died shortly after his election. Another election brought in Thaksin’s very own sister. She is seen and performing as nothing but a puppet of her elder-brother, most recently disappearing from public-view and only posting things on her Facebook-page.

(photos by Dr. Dion Peoples)

As a scholar of both Thai Studies and Buddhist Studies, I am keenly interested in these developments. One day, when the Yellow-shirts were protesting near Thammasat University, I had to walk home because the public-buses were not running because of the protests. I had to duck-under the razor wire, in order to get to another road, so I could walk home. Two Yellow-shirt demonstrators armed with wooden-sticks and other home-made weapons enthusiastically assisted me by lifting up the wires. It was a very kind and generous offer. I watched the Yellow-shirt protests with appreciation, seeing the Thai people coming together to reject a corrupt Prime-minister was really emotionally-moving. As friends or associates were becoming polarized, I saw more truth with the Yellow-shirt forces, and sided with them.

I was curious about the Red-Shirt protesters. I could never seem to trust what I was hearing from them, shouting from the stages like crazed beasts. I really, really wanted to support the poor or underprivileged. My appreciation of Buddhist-socialism allowed me to be compassionate yet still distant. A lot of the protesters were bused in and paid to be mere bodies for the regime. Their camp-sites along the road were in squalid conditions: reeking of fecal-matter and urine – many of these people had little regard for personal hygiene. These Red-mobs were terrorizing the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, to the point where the events basically terminated when Wat Patumwanaram became a site where some people were murdered by armed-men-in-black, allegedly government soldiers, but everyone knows that Thaksin Shinawatra has a personal army of former police mercenaries to carry out his whims: many of them killing 2600 other innocents.

Currently, the anti-government protesters or demonstrators are renouncing the government of Yinglack Shinawatra, because of her lies and more lies (six months of false promises) towards rice-farmers. The Shinawatra family (Yinglack’s husband is involved in the CP company – one of the largest meat-processing companies in the nation, and one of the other leading families in Thailand), continues to profit from Thai-people. Do you want to use a phone in Thailand? There are other companies to support besides a Shinawatra-owned enterprise; further it was revealed that somehow the family is also involved with Nestle (a famous brand making too many consumable products) – it is hard to avoid contributing to the pockets of the Shinawatras. They pervade Thai society. On several occasions, I have attended the anti-government demonstrations at the Ratchaprasong Stage and the Patumwan Stage.¬†Additionally, my wife’s father and her sister are not being paid by the government’s rice-scheme, so the the issue is affecting my family.

I’ve also attended the Chaeng Wattana Stage ran and organized by the charismatic monk: Venerable Buddha-Isara. I’ve heard a lot of press about him, and I decided to determine for myself, through my own six-senses: what is he really all about? I attended my first Venerable Buddha-Isara sermon on Makha Puja Day, and donated some money to him, to show my appreciation for his stance and as my support to his cause and the cause of the PDRC, to eliminate corruption from Thailand. I have, since, returned to Ven. Buddha-Isara’s stage on three occasions. He usually, according to my experience: gives a morning sermon which covers the previous-day’s news, and his reaction to it. His reaction will illuminate some aspect of the Buddha’s teaching (for instance, I recall part of his sermon about “vaca” or proper uses of speech). He also emphasizes keeping the camp-sites clean, pick up the trash and put it in the proper containers, and also as part of his sermon: rejects the personal donations, instead giving that to the camp-support agents for getting water, food, medicine or other necessary items for the general-hospitality and well-being of the camp-dwellers at the protest-stage. As a sort of stage-site abbot, he looks after his disciples, or rather brothers and sisters in the struggle against corruption. He repeatedly calls for unity in his sermons: denouncing the terminology of red-shirts or yellow-shirts since the government’s failed rice-scheme does not discriminate based on shirt-color. All of the rice-farmers were harmed in this scheme, it transcends color. Venerable Buddha-Isara’s messages to unite against corruption most recently came to light when he attempted to book 10 rooms in a certain hotel owned partially by the Shinawatras, in order to hold a conference with government-leaders, but the hotel-manager refused to lend the rooms to the bhikkhu.

I attended the sermon the next morning, and have it recorded as an audio file on my mobile phone. In this sermon, he begins by covering the daily news, and looked directly at me (recalling that I was there a few days ago for Makha-Puja Day), and jokingly-suggested that next time, I get the 10 rooms for him! The true spirit of this strife is to purify the Thai nation from the stain of Thaksin-based capitalism that is corrupting and destroying the nation. When I see that my own university is supporting the corrupt-government, the leading Buddhist university in Thailand, it really makes me stop and wonder what Buddhism is really all about? In this murky red-sea, it can be hard to view a clear blue-sky. A blue sky is one without clouds, without inhibitors, where people can see all that light enables. Light though, as I teach, blinds us to the ultimate reality of the universe – which avails itself in the midnight hours. Universally, these are just little insignificant factors, but together they are all part of a larger structure. Wisdom is the light of the world, as the university slogan suggests – yet 75% of the university is in cahoots with the corrupt-regime? People are shocked when I mention I come from “MCU” to support the PDRC, yet it is like leaving the enemy-camp and being welcomed by really good people. My university also has trouble paying lecturers: often we get our lecturing fees two or three weeks late. In conclusion: the society is sick, and we need to be healed from certain viruses. We need new ways to think and govern ourselves. We can only do this when our kilesas are purged from our system.


Dr. Dion Peoples
Lecturer, Faculty of Buddhism (since 2006)
(Current courses: Religions, Religions & Sociology, Buddhist Economics, and Professional Development, and others in the past…)
Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, Thailand.

  • justinwhitaker

    Thanks (again) for this, Dion. I should add here that I welcome other perspectives on this topic from those living in Thailand or otherwise closely connected with events there.

    If I may, a couple quick questions come to mind from all of this:

    1) Do you see any actual or potential corruption within the PDRC as a problem now or in the near future?

    2) Do you see any problem with what looks like an attempt to avoid/thwart democratic options and the possibility of a (violent) power vacuum or dictatorship afterward?

  • Education is Power

    Dear Dr Dion, I have been living in the rural area and what I have seen everyday on the street is entirely different than what you’ve seen or heard. My opinion is entirely different from yours. I’ve watched both broadcast from Red Shirt and Yellow shirt and I disagree with you that red shirt people only shouting and etc. What I have heard from the redshirt people mainly to defense the government and protecting their right to vote. Majority of people speaking on stage are just average guys and not educated so what they said may not be as polished compared to the Yellow Shirt people. However, if we truly open our mind, you would hear that they speak the truth. Its their crying to be heard that Yellow Shirt should stop. Corruption is everywhere in Thailand and is not acceptable. However, if you truly follow what’s going on in Thailand you would know that The leader of Yellow shirt, Suthep, is actually one of the worse or the most corrupt politician in Thailand. Poor people in Thailand has been put under in the society for so long, the inequality in the country is everywhere. I just don’t understand how could people including you who are educated can side with the Yellow shirt and be used by politician for their

    political gain. Don’t you remember that last time, Suthep ordered military to kill 100s of innocent people, unarmed? I just don’t understand how could someone believe that only elite should govern the country and poor people should not have the right to vote. How could highly educated person like yourself accepting that idea?

  • Dion Peoples

    Dear “Education is Power”:

    Thank you for your comment.
    As you mentioned, we have our differences in insight.
    No one is perfect.
    I’m not certain that the “Red” are speaking the truth. As I mentioned: I would really like to support a people-movement, but it was the leadership of the Reds that I distrust. Jatuporn, Chalerm, Thaksin, etc…. -sorry, I cannot.

    My family here are strong Democrat-supporters, and following events, I think they have the better plan for society. I’ve also examined the National Economic and Social Development Plans (now into the 12th NESDP) – my heart/mind really leans towards The Democrats, despite any imperfection. Did you see the news of the Reds rallying and praising the murders of the child in Trat and others hurt? Reds are welcoming the violence, and through Suthep/Buddha-Isara, I’m certain there is the lesser-evil: Buddha-Isara advocates for unity: there is no shirt-colors at his stage, as everyone there has been harmed by the government. This is a better message, the message of unity, against corruption. I endorse/support this message of unity against corruption, as a professor of Buddhist Studies – it’s the right choice for me and my family. I tried to remain neutral, but other “FB-Friends and associates” pushed me into my PUBLIC-stance on the issue. It is because of them, that I activated my political-side that I was repressing for a long time.

    Again, my wife’s family is poor, from Ubon Ratchathani province, not far from Laos… they are in desperate need for payment… but my wife’s sisters, working abroad in India and Kuwait are sending money back for their mother/father.

    Additionally, you mention something about democracy. I might have an unpopular stance here: I’ve adopted the ideology gained from Venerable Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, in his Dhammic-Socialism text, where he advocates for a sort of righteous-ruler, like a good-king or for example a PDRC ‘committee’, until a real-Democracy, void of Shinawatra poly-tricks, can be put into place and then operating as a democracy should. Thailand, and Buddhism, can operate on less-than-democratic ideals, and I’m not certain why people (Western?) are opposing this. I grew up in the atmosphere of the US Air Force, so I am used to a society where “freedoms” are restricted to some extent, but at the end of all of this, I think the improved social-discipline, or that awareness actually activates a mindset were people are more concerned about the well being of others.

    Somewhere, I should assert: I am OK with a government that is devoid of democracy, as long as it is just/fair/proper, as so on… -governments need people to function, and functioning people have opinions, and these are voiced in committee sessions. This is how social change/improvements are made through democratic endeavors. Western-Democracy is just a popularity contest, it is not about doing the correct/right/proper thing for the nation. I’m for proper development/improvements – and “education” is a massive part of this. Education, as your name suggests, is power.

    I appreciate your language of: “you should…. or: “if you…” – all of those accusatory remarks… -they are fascinating to read. You are an intelligent person, and should know that if there was the chance that, conceptually, two people would work together for an improved society, that we might actually have the same aims.

    Lastly, perhaps, I’m not a Thai citizen, obviously – but if I was, I’d be more active and possibly one of the PDRC Leaders on the stage. However, my national-citizenship inhibits anything that I may be able to contribute to this land of smiling people.

    Have a wonderful day “Education is Power” – thanks for your time and considerations.

    • Y. A. Warren

      There is a saying, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Those who believe that the few know more than the many what is best are acquiescing to abuse.

  • Education is Power

    Thank you so much for your response. Like you, I typically don’t post online but after living and experiencing months of injustice and hearing the Yellow Shirts people attacking and insulting other people everyday, I decide to speak up. I do agree with you that no one is perfect. Instead of democracy where all people is considered equal and has the rights to vote, you believe in righteous rulers.

    Who is to define what’s right, good and acceptable? Wasn’t 6 million people killed during holocaust because Hitler attempted to create a perfect society?

    I do not think that majority rule or choices chosen by majority are always right or correct. However, I believe it is the best system that allow people to chose their own destiny. If they choose a wrong leader, then let’s they suffer so hopefully they learn.

    The reason we can speak freely and choose the path we want is because of the democracy system. People can forget or don’t appreciate what they have until they lose it. Power changes a person, I just don’t trust that a dictator will always rule for the people. Seriously, do you see any modern-day society that has the dictatorship ruling that still thriving and prosperous today? I personally have not witnessed that Taksin and his sister corrupt. However, I do witness first hand that Taksin’s plans were improving the life of Thai people and his plan works. Many poor were given opportunities and now enjoying the status of middle-class. Many poor but talented kids were given scholarships for better education. Two of my cousins were graduated from technical school because of Taksin’s policy and now purchased their first homes. Without Taksin’s Education policy, my cousins would still be working labor work and living in poor condition. Taksin’s government was the very first one that commit to battle the drug dealer. He worked for the poor and fight those powerful and corrupt official. Upper class Thai’s has long been enjoying all privileges. They got upset seeing that the poor start to better themselves instead of blessing it. Democrat party was given multiple chances to lead the country. They fail and people saw it. We don’t need GDP or New York times and any reports to tell us which government work for people. We can see it through our every day life, through our business and opportunity. By the way, one does not need to be the government to proof that one’s policy is effective. Democrat party can start small by improving their provinces they govern. Show us that you can do the work. Don’t use military interference every time you want to gain power.

    Red’s shirt people are Thais and mostly poor but we are not evil. We don’t enjoy or support the killing. I did saw the live broadcast you mentioned. One of the guy point out about the killing, however, i don’t believe he and other people actually are actually happy or supporting it. I saw everyday that Yellow Shirts quickly and aggressively accuse the government of pretty much all wrong doings.

    Isara is not a Buddha. He was a monk. I said he was as that the group he leads has more armed army than any other mobs. There are more killing associated or resulting from the group he leads than even Suthep. Monk needs to promote peace and there are multiple ways to do so. His way should not be one of them.

    I value Education however educated does not mean wisdom.

    • Dion Peoples

      Dear Education is Power:
      I’ve read your comments.
      Thank you for your opinion.
      Respectfully… -Dion