Protestors have managed to shut down the Environment Ministry by blocking access to the main building – at least temporarily. The protestors are concerned about the scheduled building of two new power plants in Saraburi and Chachoengsao Provinces. The concern centres on the possible environmental impact of the new plants and the fact that, as they see it, there is no meaningful public impact into environmental impact assessments.
Protesting in Bangkok by people throughout the Kingdom has a long and distinguished history. When I have visited the ministry of Labour, for example (to visit my wife), it was a common sight to witness retrenched (redundant) or striking workers bringing their case to the centre of power. Historically, the power of the state, present in the King, was delegated to aristocrats or mandarins spread throughout the country and these officials were given permission to ‘kin mueang’ – literally, ‘eat the state.’ In other words, officials were expected to keep some portion of the national revenue (from taxes, monopolies and trading tariffs) for their own purposes – this is considered to be the origin of corruption in the country. It was only when the official took too much that people would rebel and begin a march on the capital to take their protests to the king.
Normally, of course, the king would send soldiers to kill or disperse the peasants before they got anywhere near the capital but the tradition remains. Thais tend to believe in the monument supposedly set up the King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, which promised them that all people could come to him and he would listen to their grievances. And so, it is common for protestors to come to Bangkok and set up camp to demonstrate about the issues that concern them and either receive a hearing and some kind of assistance or have to give up and go home.
In the current environment, with the spoilt brat anti-democracy activists PAD whipping up hysteria through a wrongly friendly media, protestors run extra risks. There is a real danger of violence at the moment. Visitors should stay away from protests – it is, after all, illegal for foreigners to be involved in political protests (it dates back to the Communist scare).