Strange Bedfellows


“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,” so said Trinculo in The Tempest, which is a phrase more commonly heard in the form ‘politics makes strange bedfellows.’ So it has now become in Thailand with the pro-democracy UDD movement (the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship) promising to become human shields for the police, who were repeatedly attacked by the right-wing PAD thugs last week.

For decades, the police have been one of the state agencies routinely used to hassle left-wing and community activists, beating up and killing many people. The military and para-military forces, especially the heavily-armed ‘Village Scout’ or ‘Red Gaur’ movements, have also been used to suppress many forms of dissidence, especially during the period when Communist forces were active in the outlying districts.

The police are also routinely linked with corruption, particularly the traffic police, who are said to stop drivers for various fraudulent reasons and request bribes to make the paperwork disappear. They are not, conventionally, figures of any great sympathy in society.

It comes to something, then, for the ‘boys in brown’ to be seen as, in some ways, heroes of democracy (not by the right-wing, of course, who are talking of police brutality, tyranny etc). This is partly because of the savagery of the PAD attacks, the refusal by certain doctors to treat police who have been injured (including being shot and deliberately driven into by vehicles) trying to enforce the rule of law against the illegal PAD mob, the fact that the police have been prevented from doing their jobs by certain highly-placed individuals who protect the PAD and because it has become clear just how ramshackle their equipment is (in contrast to the enormous increases in the military budget over the past few years). It is said that the police wanted to use water cannon but did not own any and the BMA refused to lend them city equipment. They were obliged, therefore, to use Russian-made tear gas grenades for lack of alternatives.

So, now it is that the right-wing talks about police abuses while those who have actually suffered from abuses for decades are coming to Bangkok to protect them.