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The Clowny Clown Clown Issue


Welcome to the biggest, messiest party in Bangkok. Roughly 10,000 Thais—nearly a million if you ask the invaders—have seized the prime minister’s Government House headquarters.

The well-to-do face of Thai political unrest.

The bathroom tile is slick with black liquid. I’m hesitant to enter barefoot, but a grade school boy has pointed to the “No Socks and Shoes” sign scrawled in Thai on a torn square of cardboard. He’s sitting behind some bureaucrat’s desk, which is absurdly huge for a little kid. Right now, however, that passes for authority so I lose the socks. We’re deep inside Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s executive compound. I shouldn’t be here, nor should the roaring mob outside, but we are and I have to pee. The boy offers me a handful of toilet paper and smiles. Barefoot, I sidestep the inky puddles inside the bathroom, tiptoe around gummy wads of tissue, and take a leak at the seat of Thai political power.


Welcome to the biggest, messiest party in Bangkok. Roughly 10,000 Thais—nearly a million if you ask the invaders—have seized the prime minister’s Government House headquarters, a sprawling complex of Venetian architecture in the middle of the capital. The first protesters arrived on August 26 gripping golf clubs and broken table legs. Then came a cheering mob of thousands, high on revolution, united under a promise to stay until the prime minister quits.

Nearly two weeks have past and so far, they’ve kept their promise. The grounds of the Government House’s now host a weird, violence-tinged Lollapalooza.

Panties are sun-drying on manicured shrubs. Protesters live out of tents pitched in the prime minister’s parking garage. Trucked in port-a-johns stink up the alleys. Vendors sell fish skewers alongside Sid Vicious t-shirts. Cops in riot gear ring the perimeter, but they are hopelessly outnumbered.

So what’s bugging so many people in the “Land of Smiles”?

1. The last prime minister, former Manchester City Football Club owner Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a coup two years ago and hit with a slew of corruption charges. Despite all that, his right-wing political ally, Samak, won the ensuing election anyway. A lot of Thais were pissed.

2. As Thaksin’s corruption trial neared, he fled to London via Beijing during the Olympic Games. He now lives there in self-imposed exile. The same Thais were doubly pissed.


3. Since the decade’s start, Thaksin, Samak, and their allies have tried catering to poor, rural Thais, offering government loans, $1-per-visit healthcare and debt clearance. While critics have called this vote buying and reckless pandering, Samak & co. have called it “working,” and power has shifted away from old-money elites.

The siege—paired with a short-lived takeover of seven other ministries and a TV station—appeals to Bangkok’s upper and middle classes. Wealthy and mad, they’ve backed the People’s Alliance for Democracy, the group leading the raid on Samak’s compound. The PAD calls it the “Last War.” Their stated and slightly ironic goal is to peel back democracy in favor of an appointee system led by educated elites, who would assign leaders mostly through appointment. (According to their plan, only 30 percent of politicians would be seated through elections.)

The prime minister’s manicured shrubs.

The supporters arrive en masse, endure a light frisking, and file inside the Government House’s ornate gateway. Most show up already wearing canary yellow, the adopted color of the gatecrashers and meant to evoke their allegiance to Thailand’s adored king.

Though uprisings generally conjure images of desperate have-nots, that’s not this takeover’s demographic. These are college kids, nurses, engineers, stay-at-home grandmas, and workaday bureaucrats—a decidedly middle-class group seasoned very lightly with a dash of lower-income Bangkokians who feel ignored by the standing government.


“I make 100,000 baht each month [roughly $3,000 US, well-off compared with the country’s average annual income of $8,000],” said 35-year-old Chiradej Phengsawaeng, a plump-faced doctor who put his practice on hiatus to aid the siege. Illuminated by street lamps, he stands nightwatch with men toting an assortment of skull-knockers: steel poles, dowel rods, PVC pipes. “Staying here,” Chiradej says, “I’ve probably lost 50,000 baht in income.”

The volunteer minutemen patrol the compound to ward off police and rival pro-government protesters. “I’m not ready to hurt anybody, but I have this to protect myself,” Santi Yanothai, 55, a mid-level bureaucrat armed with a golf club tells me. It’s hard to picture Santi swinging his nine-iron into someone’s teeth. Still, in pre-dawn clashes at the compound’s perimeter, opposition gangs in red shirts have set off Bloods-versus-Crips-style melees. The largest clash ended in about 40 injuries and one fatal beating.

As the protest perseveres in spite of the government’s declared state of emergency, which bans gatherings larger than five, so does the lawlessness inside the Government House. The ambiance is grungy summer festival. Vendors are reaping windfall profits off pork buns, toy noisemakers, and Che Guevera crap. Protesters try to outdo one another with progressively cruder cartoons of the prime minister: Samak with fangs, Samak as a pig, Samak being rectally violated with durian, a spiky regional fruit.


Wealthy donors supply free food, water, mobile toilets, and plastic sheets, but unfortunately the freebies lure in the hungry along with the politically discontent. “Please don’t take food and go home,” a volunteer shouts into a megaphone near a no-pay food stall. “If you’re gonna take food here, shit it out here.”

“I can’t deny that, at this point, there are very few political options left,” said Deputy Government Spokesman Nattawut Saikua, speaking through a translator. “We’re trying to find an exit from the crisis at a time when we can’t even get in the Government House.”

Beyond the Government House, Bangkok remains safe as ever. So far, only isolated corners of the compound have turned violent after sunset. But inside the nation’s headquarters, this siege drags on, and the prime minister watches helplessly as 10,000 screaming detractors soil his image and executive toilets.

Protesters set up shop outside the prime minister’s bathroom.

Someone’s grandma tends the shrubs

A PAD nightwatch on patrol.

Easily the biggest ring we’ve seen on a political dissident since the guy on the first page.

The best camping digs are in the prime minister’s parking garage, where the ground is level and dry.