By PRAVIT ROJANAPHRUK
RIGHT after staging a coup a year ago, the military went to this staunchly red-shirt province to host a concert and offer free food in a bid to ease the political divide and foster reconciliation.
However, a recent visit to the Pianont Market community in Pathum Thani’s Lam Luk Ka district showed that reconciliation was still elusive and the political division very indissoluble.
Rice and coconut seller Rattatiya Yusingtoh, 44, and her husband Amnat Inbaan, 45, still wear red T-shirts while going about their business in the area. However, their red shirts carry no messages that will implicate them politically.
“We can’t wear messages supporting [ex-PMs] Thaksin [Shinawatra] or Yingluck. Our rights are being curtailed,” lamented Rattatiya, adding that even the signals of a radio station run by a pro-red-shirt Buddhist monk were being tampered with by the military since the coup.
This was also the location of a high-profile red-shirt community radio station run by prominent red-shirt member Wuthipong “Ko Tee” Kottham-makhun, who is now a lese majeste fugitive in exile.
“Our rights and liberty are being affected, but can they dissolve our political identity? No. They can only stop us from wearing red,” she said, adding that she and her husband still keep flags of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) at home, waiting for the day when they can freely fly them.
“I don’t watch TV anymore, except for [red-shirt] Peace TV [online],” she said.
The military may no longer hold free concerts or offer free haircuts, food and drink in this community, but this couple and other residents say soldiers visit quite frequently.
Rattatiya and her husband have made no secret of their dislike of the junta and those “visitors in uniform” who show up in armoured vehicles to collect information and ensure everything is orderly. The couple says there can be no reconciliation as long as those on the other side of the divide are given preferential treatment.
Less than a 100-metres away, across the street, another couple runs a chicken-rice shop – and they are not red shirts, but die-hard anti-Thaksin and Yingluck yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) members.
“We exist separately. I don’t care,” said Noi, who asked that her full name not be revealed. She added that as long as the red shirts in the community do not defame the monarchy, everybody can get on with their lives as normal.
Noi said people know each other’s political stance, and most red-shirts simply don’t patronise their stall.
However, this couple also agreed that moves to dissolve the colour-coded political divide and forge reconciliation after the coup have been unsuccessful.
Noi’s husband Panlop Paingta said the red shirts have been generally keeping a low profile since the coup.
As for the situation, he reckons a generational change is required to end the political hatred and bring about reconciliation – a task that will take 10 to 20 years to complete.
Though there are no visible signs of the area being a red-shirt stronghold, Prathuang Pinyo, the owner of a photo-processing shop, insisted that many people still wear their political colour in their hearts. Prathuang was detained by the military without charge for a week after the coup.
“It’s still in the hearts,” he reiterated, without an iota of doubt.
As for the free concert and food, Prathuang has no memory of it. He was under detention at the time, saying that two of his computers and a mobile phone had been taken away by the military but they still haven’t been returned. He said he eventually decided to file a police complaint about the missing items, and holding out the document, asked if we could pass the message on to the prime minister.