The crowd at American Legion Hall cheered after they sang the Thai national anthem. Members of Washington’s Thai community gathered Feb. 1, 2014 to talk recent mass protests in Thailand. (Photo by Imana Gunawan)
The crowd at American Legion Hall cheered after they sang the Thai national anthem. Members of Washington’s Thai community gathered February 1 to talk recent mass protests in Thailand. • Photo by Imana Gunawan

A crowd of around 100 arrived at Shoreline’s American Legion Hall on February 1 decked out in Thai national flag colors to share speeches and take a supportive stand on massive protests against current Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

People’s Democratic Reform Committee’s (PDRC) Seattle chapter held the event as a response to mass demonstrations across Thailand, as well as the mainstream media coverage surrounding them.

Since October 2013, millions have taken to the streets of Bangkok and other cities in Thailand, calling out government corruption and demanding reforms before this month’s and future elections. In addition to the rally, the PDRC also sent formal statements in support of Thai citizens to the Election Committee Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the General Consulate Office in Los Angeles, among others, said Peter Tangpiankij, PDRC member and one of the event’s organizers.

The recent election had the worst voter turnout in Thai history, with only 46 percent of the population casting their ballots, according to Alt Thai News, an independent, alternative Thai-centered news organization.

The current Thai government was installed by Thaksin Shinawatra, an exiled former prime minister, but has been ruled by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, for 12 years, according to Network of Thais Overseas.

Most of the event in Shoreline was delivered in Thai, with some speakers delivering their speeches in either full English or part English, part Thai. The rally occurred simultaneously with many others across the nation and the world, Tangpiankij said.

“It’s for people in Thailand,” Tangpiankij said. “We’re supporting their struggle, their fight for the good cause … even if it means that someone has to get injured and lose their lives, which has happened.”

Bill Monson, American cable television businessman, spoke to the crowd about his experience with Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s former prime minister. Photo by Imana Gunawan)
Bill Monson, American cable television businessman, spoke to the crowd about his experience with Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s former prime minister. • Photo by Imana Gunawan

One of the speakers was Bill Monson, an American cable television businessman and current president of the Seattle-based ClearView cable television company. In the late 1980s, Monson cooperated with Thaksin’s administration to establish Video Link. The cable television establishment is a joint venture between Monson’s ClearView, Thaksin’s Shinawatra Computer and Communications (now known as Shin Corporation), and International Broadcasting Company (today known as United Broadcasting Corporation).

Since 1989, Monson has been involved in legal battles with Thaksin.

“Thaksin is a master of deceit,” Monson said to the crowd. “He was a friend. I was trying to help him and he was trying to help me … but he just lied.”

The nationwide protests in Thailand have also garnered coverage from mainstream media outlets such as AP, Reuters, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC, Al-Jazeera, CNN, and more. In Washington, The Seattle Times and The Stranger have also covered the Thai protests. However, Tangpiankij said, the coverage has been misleading.

For example, many painted a more simplistic picture of the fight between two sides, he said.

Some media outlets, Tangpiankij said, only wrote about the battle between the pro-government party (commonly known as “red shirts” for the color of their of their T-shirt uniform) versus the anti-government “yellow shirts.” Other outlets claimed the protests were about the rich in Bangkok versus the poor in the countryside.

“It’s about the fight of people from all walks of life, not just for one group or the other,” Tangpiankij said.

Chainarong Sutsukon, an attendee, has lived in Shoreline for about 30 years. He said that there has been political turmoil in Thailand in the past, but the current situation is worse than it has been.

“The event is good for people away from home … because you’ve seen in the past and now is worse in terms of power and corruption, and I think the people don’t have the freedom anymore in a democratic country,” Sustsukon said. “I’m very happy to see a lot of people show up to show their spirit and support for an idea.”

Tangpiankij added that the PDRC and most Thai citizens’ stance is not in support of a particular party, but they view the purpose of the uprising for a new leader as more important.

“We want leaders and representatives who’re not corrupt, who’re responsible, who’re accountable, and conscientiously do a job for the greater good of the public,” Tangpiankij said. “We’re sick and tired of a leaders and representatives who hijacks the democracy from us.”

At the rally, the attendees also sang Thai national anthems and popular Thai songs to promote solidarity. The speeches included an introduction from PDRC chair and adviser Tirawat Singthong and talks on solidarity with Thai citizens by PDRC member Kane Boonyaket and Narong Jumpathong, president of the Thai Golfers Association. Lastly, Phuriska Khumdee of Portland, Oregon also shared with the crowd insights on Thai Rak Thai Party (Thaksin’s former party), which she garnered during her time as a political volunteer in Thailand.

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