Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bangkok's Yellow Shirts and Taipei's Red Shirts: A Tale of Two Cities

Bangkok's Yellow Shirts and Taipei's Red Shirts: A Tale of Two Cities
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
December 4, 2008

Thailand's "Yellow Shirts" surrounded Thailand's parliament and occupied Bangkok's airports for nearly ten days. The Constitutional Court dissolved the government's three-party coalition, finding it guilty of corruption. Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat must step down. The Yellow Shirts celebrated their victory and ended their occupation. Bangkok's Yellow Shirts succeeded in their anti-corruption campaign. But two years ago, Taipei's "Red Shirts" (aka, Red Shirt Army) were unable to force Chen Shui-bian to step down. Let's compare the two movements.

In recent years, political movements flying banners of various colors have proliferated in the world's emerging nations. Their demands may be different, but media coverage has allowed them all to have far-reaching impacts and inspirational roles. The Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts are part of this new wave. Bangkok's Yellow Shirts and Taipei's Red Shirts have many things in common. One. Both groups targeted corrupt leaders. Two. Their members were primarily middle class, and included trade unionists and civil servants. Three. Their members were self-directed and self-aware.

During their demonstrations, Yellow Shirts waved banners reading "Marcos + Suharto + Chen Shui-bian = Thaksin." Obviously the public in Thailand was not unaware of Chen Shui-bian's corruption on Taiwan. In the eyes of the Yellow Shirts, Thaksin's corruption was the worst in South-East Asia. It equalled the corruption committed by the three other Asian heads of state combined. This sentiment perhaps reflects their greater antipathy to an evil closer to home.

We must also note the differences between the Yellow Shirts and the Red Shirts. The Yellow Shirt movement was launched by Thailand's opposition party, the "People's Alliance for Democracy." As a result, it had a more efficient chain of command. It also had the sympathy of the military, which opposed the ruling party. It could act with impunity. That's why it could march right in and take over. By contrast, Taiwan's Red Shirt movement was not launched by any political party. The Red Shirts may have been politically aware. But when it came time to act, they often lacked direction. They sometimes wound up wandering about the streets. In order to prevent Somchai Wongsawat's return, the Yellow Shirts took over two Bangkok airports overnight. They prevented flights from taking off and landing. They left hundreds of thousands of domestic and foreign tourists unable to return home. They left the world in an uproar. The Red Shirts on the other hand, were unable or unwilling to take such extreme measures. No matter how justified they might have felt morally, they had too much concern for their personal image and the image of the country.

Thailand's national character has long been conservative and moderate. The Yellow Shirts' violent occupation of the airports, showed that the political turmoil in Thailand led to qualitative change in the national character. Thailand's long tradition of political compromise no longer met the public's raised expectations for greater democracy. Thaksin's flight to the United Kingdom, military subversion, and Somchai Wongsawat's nepotistic succession, provoked powerful indignation among the middle-class. Only then did the protest erupt, sending shockwaves around the world. Was the Constitutional Court influenced by the demonstrations? The outside world has no way of knowing. But at least the standoff in Bangkok has been resolved, for the time being.

The Yellow Shirts movement cannot be considered an unqualified victory. It remains controversial. Somchai Wongsawat has stepped down. The Yellow Shirts' demands have been met. But the fierce protests harmed the country's economy, including its tourism industry, and led to the loss of hundreds of billions of baht. Bangkok Airport's status as a Southeast Asia transit center was harmed. The public's opinion of the Yellow Shirts has declined precipitously. The Yellow Shirts made the ruling party pay a price. But their own image suffered as well. Did the process advance Thailand's democracy? Or did it merely put the nation through another round of political unrest? For the moment, no one can be sure.

By contrast, the Red Shirts were unable to force a corrupt head of state to step down two years ago. But the subsequent election dealt the DPP a crushing blow. Although Chen Shui-bian was lucky enough to survive the State Affairs Fund scandal, once his term ended, more money-laundering and bribery scandals erupted. He must now face the music. The moral judgment the Red Shirts rendered may not have led to his ouster. But it led to today's normalization of due process of law. For democracy, the morning's loss was the evening's gain. The nation returned to the tried and true path of constitutional government. In this sense, the Red Shirts constituted a new social movement, one even more valuable. Its impact has already been felt.

The world has witnessed plenty of bloody and violent pro-democracy movements. But only the Red Shirts can boast that one million people took to the streets with nary an incident. Therefore, rather than say that the Red Shirts were less effective than the Yellow Shirts, it would be more accurate to say that Chen Shui-bian had a thicker skin than Somchai Wongsawat.

Thailand's political system contains more checks and balances. The King of Thailand has enormous prestige. As a result, the nation remains stable amidst turmoil. By contrast, Taiwan's party politics have already taken shape. Public understanding of democracy is more advanced. These provide an effective mediator for Blue vs. Green confrontation. Therefore one must not evalute the effectiveness of the Yellow Shirts and the Red Shirts by looking only at the immediate impact. One must consider the long term impact of these two apparently different pro-democracy movements.

2008.12.04 01:50 am


近年全球新興國家以顏色為標記的「公民運動」勃興,雖然訴求各異,但透過媒體傳播,產生了遙相啟發和感應的作用,紅衫軍和黃衫軍皆是在這波公民運動的浪潮 中。曼谷黃衫軍和台北紅衫軍有不少相同之處:一,都以反對貪腐的主政者為目標;二,參與群眾皆以都會中產階級為主,包括工會和公務員;三,群眾的自發性及 自覺性相當高。


但我們也不能不注意到黃衫軍和紅衫軍的本質差異。黃衫軍是泰國反對黨「民盟」所發動及主導,因此指揮系統較有效率;加上獲有反執政黨的軍方之同情,行動更 無顧忌,才能長驅直入。相較之下,台灣紅衫軍不是政黨推動,雖具公民自覺的強度,行動上卻缺乏統一的方向感,有時不免在街頭陷於徘徊。也因此,當黃衫軍為 了阻止宋猜返國,竟可一夕之間包圍曼谷兩座機場,癱瘓班機起降,讓數十萬國內外旅客有家歸不得,舉世譁然。如此激烈的手段,在道德感強、對自身及國家形象 瞻前顧後的紅衫軍而言,恐怕正是他們當年絕不敢做、也不願做的事吧?

以泰國民情一向的保守、溫和,這次黃衫軍會出現佔領機場的暴烈行徑,顯示泰國的政治動盪已催化了民情的「質變」。泰國長期和稀泥式的傳統政治,已無法滿足 人民越來越高的民主期待,包括塔信的出逃英國、軍方的政變攪局及宋猜以裙帶關係接任,在在激起中產階級民眾的強烈憤怒,才會爆發這場震動國際的抗議風潮。 憲法法庭的裁決是否受到示威情勢的影響,外界不得而知,但這場曼谷僵局因此暫獲解決,至少是可以稱幸之事。

嚴格而論,黃衫軍的抗爭能不能算「勝利」,其實仍有爭議。表面上,宋猜下台,黃衫軍的訴求得到了伸張;但這次激烈示威導致國家經濟及觀光的損失達上千億泰 銖,曼谷機場作為東南亞轉運中心的形象遭到重創,一般人民對於黃衫軍的認同亦嚴重下滑。黃衫軍讓主政者付出了代價,它自身形象亦同樣慘賠。要說這對泰國的 民主產生了多少推進作用,或只是讓政局陷入新一輪迴的動盪,目前誰也無法逆料。

相形之下,兩年前的紅衫軍雖未能撼動貪瀆元首,但運動中展現的昂盛民氣與道德訴求,卻在隨後的選舉中讓民進黨飽嘗敗績。更值得一提的是,陳水扁雖儌倖逃過 那場對國務費的討伐之劫,卻在下台後爆出更多洗錢、收賄等罪行,必須面對司法的審判。如今看來,當時紅衫軍的「道德審判」失利,才有了今天體制化、程序化 的「司法審判」,在民主是「失之東隅、收之桑榆」,走回一條更穩健的憲政道路。從這個意義看,紅衫軍作為一次新形式的公民運動,其實更為難能可貴,只是其 效果已經昇華罷了。


泰國政治有比較多元的制衡架構,加上泰皇的威望,使它在頻仍的動盪中不致翻覆;相對的,台灣政黨政治已然成形,而公民的民主素養更為深化,已可成為平衡藍 綠對峙的有效仲裁。也因此,不能以立即的效應對黃衫軍和紅衫軍的強弱得失作出品評,而應思考這兩種看似迥然而異的民運表現,將有何種不同的長遠影響?

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