Thailand protests: an on-stage ‘duel’
We clambered up a wobbly ladder and onto the “main stage” at the Rajprasong intersection and looked out onto a crowd of many thousands assembled below.
It was an extraordinary scene and my cameraman Matt Jasper was soon capturing it – one of Bangkok’s great commercial thoroughfares, flanked by shopping malls and luxury goods retailers, filled with a sea of whistle-blowing demonstrators, dressed in reds, blues and whites.
The Rajprasong site is one of seven city crossroads that has been taken over anti-government protestors in Thailand. They are calling it the “Bangkok Shutdown” - the latest in a series of protests designed to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Both she and her billionaire brother Thaksin are accused of running the nation for their own personal benefit.
Protest leaders want to “purge” Thailand of the Shinawatra family’s influence and the best way to do this, they claim, is through a non-elected “council of experts”. There are few details of how this would work in practice but the basic idea is that the country would be ‘reformed’ before new elections could be held.
Of course, this might sound a little bit “previous century” to some - when one-party states, with their own non-elected councils, looked after themselves in the name of their own people.
It is even more controversial when you consider the fact that Yingluck Shinawatra was elected in a democratic election in 2011 and is thought to enjoy the support of the majority of Thais, largely based in the rural north and north-east.
Still, that’s not something many of these protesters, made up largely of middle and upper-class Thais, seem willing to address.
Which brings us back to the “Rajprasong main stage”. While we were filming, a flamboyant speaker called Dr Seri Wongmontha was busy whipping up the crowd - the sleeves of his flowing silk jacket of turquoise and pink, flying in the wind.
“We cannot stand what Yingluck Shinawatra has done to our country,” he said before glancing over to me in the corner.
“You want an interview,” he asked with microphone in hand. I responded in the affirmative, thinking that we would catch him off-stage after his performance. But I was mistaken.
Dr Seri, a Thai television celebrity, political columnist and judge of this country’s annual transvestite beauty contest, had other plans.
What followed was a live, on-stage dual in front of thousands of protestors – and you can watch the entire unedited exchange above.
As a foreign journalist, I can tell that it was a hostile place to do an interview – Thai speakers may be able to hear the crowd shouting “Get out! Get out!” – a directive that may have been aimed at me or the current prime minister – or perhaps both of us.
Dr Seri’s intention? To give me a double-barreled blast of anti-government passion while dismissing concerns about undemocratic behaviour and the prevalence of corruption on both sides of the political spectrum. See what you think…
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