Thailand’s supreme court has confiscated much of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s family fortune, but, as the BBC’s Vaudine England reports, the verdict is unlikely to end his appeal or heal the country’s deep political schisms.
Back in 1976, Dr Weng Tojirakarn was a young student leader in protests that ended with the military opening fire and killing many of his fellow demonstrators.
He fled to the hills, where Thailand’s Communist Party offered a haven for many in the radical intelligentsia of the time.
Not necessarily communist, several of those activists have since become leaders of the red shirts, like Dr Weng. Some, such as Chaturon Chaisang, were even members of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s cabinets.
For men such as these, the supreme court verdict against Thaksin’s private wealth is of no importance whatsoever to the struggle.
“Thaksin is just only one person in this country,” Dr Weng says. “He may be an ex-prime minister but he is nothing to do with what I’m fighting for, because I’m fighting for the genuine democratic system in Thailand.”
Dr Weng wants a system where “real political power must be in the hands of the people and all man is created equal, every citizen must have an equal political right and also economic chance”.
“But that never happened in Thailand,” he says, adding that he looks to Britain or Japan for states where the monarch is supreme and democracy thrives.
“I’m not fighting for Thaksin. I’m fighting for my country to be a genuine democratic system.”
To that end, Dr Weng shuts up his small, poorly decorated doctor’s clinic off a frantic highway in northern Bangkok every weekend and drives back to communities of the rural poor he once ministered to as a radical young student.
There he and other leaders of the red-shirted United Front for Democracy (UDD) hold what they calls schools, to raise the political consciousness of the people.
The arguments put across and discussed with varied communities focus on the injustice of the coup in 2006 that deposed a freely elected leader.
These lessons have added pungency as they are delivered to communities that voted for Thaksin, once they realised he was going to fund small businesses, provide cheap healthcare, and generally support his voter base beyond the urban centres.
To many in Thailand, that style of governance – where a shirt-sleeved Thaksin, without pomp, would tour rural areas and listen to people’s problems – was new.
But to some Thais – who cannot imagine that their servants should have a vote equal in power to their own – it was threatening.
Their preferred exercise of power has been through a strong military, monarchist bureaucracy – a system Thaksin cut through.
The anti-Thaksin yellow shirt protesters who helped usher in the current government of prime minister Abhisit Vejajiva openly spoke of wanting a new system where some people’s votes counted for more than others.
This is why a billionaire businessman and his cronies can be in the same alliance as men such as Dr Weng, all of them convinced they are fighting for democracy.
“This is a united front – meaning we have to co-operate where we can co-operate. What we can’t co-operate on, we put aside,” Dr Weng says.
Analysts are agreed that many Thais are more politically aware these days. They call it the genie that cannot be put back in the bottle, or the toothpaste that cannot be squeezed back into the tube.
They also note that the wellsprings of anger and the sense of disenfranchisement engendered by the 2006 coup are only growing deeper and more bitter with each setback to the man they regard as the only one who cared for them.
For this reason, any hope Abhisit’s government might have that the latest court ruling against Thaksin will fatally weaken his support base, could be in vain.
Some argue that a possible lack of money to fund further red shirt demonstrations could lose it numbers and damage its ability to stage massive protests capable of bringing down the current government.
Others argue the anger will only grow and fester, becoming more dangerous over time, with or without the money. – BBC