'I'm a red. Totally red," declared Wannee, a Bangkok slum dweller who was among the protesters rallying in front of Government House yesterday.
Some may look at the red movement's attacks on double standards and disparity as mere rhetoric. But for Wannee, the disparity message hit the nail right on the head, which was why she attended the Ratchaprasong rally regularly in 2010 before the violence broke out.
" I also voted Pheu Thai afterward because I thought it could make a difference to the lives of the poor. But now I'm not sure anymore."
Wannee, 59, lives in Rim Tang Duan slum in Bang Na with her two daughters and an elderly mother. After an eviction threat, her community and the landlord eventually reached an agreement, which was modelled after other slums' successful experiences in resolving housing rights conflicts.
Under the agreement, the squatters will move out. The landlord will help with a sum of money for the community to buy a plot of land together. But even with group savings, the money won't be enough for the community to buy the land on a hire-purchase basis, nor to build their houses. It is why Rim Tang Duan joined the Four-Region Slums Network to rally for long-term, low-interest credit for housing security.
Their demand was acceded to by the Thaksin Shinawatra administration which approved a budget of 3 billion baht for low-interest credit under the Ban Mankong programme.
But things came to a halt when the political violence broke out. That was why Wannee celebrated when Thaksin's sister Yingluck took the helm, thinking the slum dwellers dream of having a house of their own would finally be within reach.
That wasn't the way things turned out. Instead, Wannee found herself among thousands of villagers from different regions who joined the People's Movement for a Just Society (P-move) street demonstration this week to chase after broken promises.
As for the housing rights networks, they are angry with the government for pushing another housing project called Baan Ua-athorn down their throat.
Under Baan Ua-athorn, the slum dwellers do not have any say. They can only buy small rooms in flats far away from town that the government provides for them.
"It's a top-down project that benefits construction businesses and real estate developers, not us," said Mam, another slum dweller. "It also destroys our sense of community."
For the land rights networks, they are angry with the government's tampering with the Land Bank regulations. The original idea was to acquire land for the landless. But if the government has its way, the land can also be given to investors for commercial and industrial uses.
The villagers are also furious with the government's betrayal of the community land ownership promise, which is actually part of the Yingluck administration's policy pledge to solve land rights conflicts in forest areas.
According to this policy, old forest communities can stay where they are through receiving community land deeds in exchange for preserving the forests. The villagers can till the land but not sell it to prevent it from falling into the hands of speculators.
Two villages have been granted community land title deeds. More than 100 communities are waiting their turn. They were in shock, therefore, after suffering a violent crackdown by forest authorities.
This must stop. All forest laws that violate forest dwellers' constitutional rights to stay on their land must also be revoked, demanded Pmove.
To stay above the day-to-day political fray, Ms Yingluck usually refuses to meet face to face with protesters. That she agreed to meet the Pmove protesters herself yesterday can be viewed as a success, but the villagers know through their long, painful experiences that they have to keep pushing before things start moving.
Although many Pmove members call themselves red, their leaders have announced that the movement is not aligned with any political camp.
"It's probably why the government is not taking us seriously,"said Mam.
For Wannee, all she knows is that she is not alone with her disillusionment with party politics. Like her, a lot of her "red" friends are complaining about Pheu Thai's lack of will to tackle the root causes of injustice and disparity.
Like her, they have come to realise that they have to push for changes themselves. "It's very exhausting", said Wannee. "But we have no choice. If we poor people don't do it, who will?"
Sanitsuda Ekachai is Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post
About the author
- Writer: Sanitsuda Ekachai
Position: Assistant Editor