Who is financing Thailand's street protests?
Organizers say they have cost almost $2 million so far
Picture: AFP Photo/Indranil Mukherjee
...The street protests aimed at unseating the caretaker government of Premier Yingluck Shinawatra are well into their third month, and showing few signs of letting up.
If anything, protesters aim to "shut down" Bangkok on January 13, leaving their main rally site in the inner city's Democracy Monument to move to several key intersections across the Thai capital.
They aim to root out all vestiges of the "Thaksin regime" of Yingluck's brother by delaying the February 2 election, and are demanding political reform under a "people's council" first.
The massive operation is costing anything from two million baht (US$30,239) to five million baht a day, reveals Akanat Promphan, the spokesman for protest organiser the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). That works out to well over 60 million baht [US$1,817,246] so far.
Just who bankrolls it all? As with previous protests, the gaze has fallen on Thailand's corporate titans. Some of them are said to have been sidelined by the business networks of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and some are known for hedging their bets by supporting a variety of political factions.
Akanat denies their involvement. "There are a lot of rumours on the Internet that we receive donations from CP, from ThaiBev, from Red Bull, from wealthy people and from large corporations. None of that is true," he tells The Straits Times.
CP is the food and retail conglomerate Charoen Pokphand, which runs the 7-Eleven chain in the country. ThaiBev or Thai Beverage is a Singapore-listed beer company that was used by its founder Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi to take over Fraser & Neave in 2012. And the Yoovidhya family behind the Red Bull energy drink is one of the richest families in the kingdom.
Akanat says the PDRC "rarely" gets sponsorship from big corporations, because "a lot of them had some relationship with the government".
Rather, he insists, it attracts donations from a broad spectrum of society. He adds that, in the beginning, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban sold family land, mostly in southern Thailand, to start the campaign. Official records show the former deputy prime minister and senior member of the opposition Democrat Party declared 207 million baht worth of assets in 2012.
For weeks, Ratchadamnoen Avenue in inner Bangkok has been occupied by large stages, big screens and elaborate sound systems which broadcast nightly rallies to supporters. Cooks serve up piping hot noodles and rice for free distribution. Giant tents keep supporters cool in the midday sun. There is running water from modified fire hydrants nearby while water hoses are covered with tar to make mini speed bumps for blockaded roads.
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