The sign on the truck reads: To protect the project ‘Father of the land, the Khao Hin Son Research and Development Project under the royal idea, in Panom Sarakham in Chacherngsao Province’ [meaning they are protesting against a power plant that would harm a royally inspired agricultural project]
The road sign reads: The Panomsarakharm [Provincial] Police station -100 meters
Closing a Provincial Highway – March 21, 2011
Here are some photos of a typical method of protest–closing a road to get the attention of the government or bureaucracy. This protest event was in Panomsarakharm District in Chachoengsao Province and the protest was against a coal-fired power plant. The fears of having such a plant in rural areas is not unjustified–there are numerous instances around the country of local communities being devastated by various polluting plants.
This sort of protest normally is a series of set events:
The protest usually blocks one lane of a highway–with truck and tents and sometimes by dumping produce on the road (especially if it is a price support issue).
The police then enter into negotiations with the protesters making sure they proceed in a formal manner that acknowledges the protesters’ sense of legitimacy and importance.
The demand of the protesters is to present a letter detailing their grievances to a top relevant official.
Usually a deputy or subordinate arrives to accept the letter of protest for the top official.
Having had their issue acknowledged, the protesters disperse.
These events usually do not last longer than a day.
The success of local protests depends on governmental and bureaucratic resolve and increasingly can turn on technical legal rulings by the judiciary. Normally issues of harmony, “satisfaction,” and “benefits for all” are valued over strict interpretations of right and wrong. Often in the case of power plants, dams, and other infrastructure important to the government, the response to local protest can be thuggish–especially when the protest is prolonged and the people will not disperse (i.e. they are not adhering to the acceptable rules for protest).
The “rules” of this sort of protest are key to the Red Shirt raid of the Asean Summit in Pattaya in 2009. The Red Shirts had been promising that they needed to approach the summit venue to offer a letter detailing their grievances in the traditional Thai style of protest. It appeared that the authorities were skeptical and did everything they could to resist this considering earlier Red Shirt attacks on the Prime Minister’s car. At some point, perhaps with the assurances of top Chonburi officials about Red Shirt intentions, Red Shirts were allowed to approach the venue to deliver their letter, but it turned out to be a ruse to overrun the venue instead.
In general, a way to discredit a local protest is to circulate word that a “third hand” is staging the event for political or financial benefit. This sort of claim allows authorities and the public to instantly dismiss the protest issue. This is a blind spot in the Thai world–it is rarely recognized that, while a protest may be staged, it may also be true that the grievances raised are legitimate and should be addressed. Raising the “third hand” aspect usually results in the underlying issues being dismissed.
This ties into the Red Shirt protest issue as well. While it may seem clear that the specific timing of their activities are solely for Thaksin’s short-term political goals, it may also be the case that the issues raised in general, such as inclusion, reform, and prosperity at the rural level, must be addressed regardless of the “third hand” involved.
The sign reads: The Panomsarakharm District people do not want the Khao Hin Son coal-fired power plant!