V for Thailand: Why Protestors in Bangkok are Donning Guy Fawkes Masks

Image from Faine Greenwood

(Bangkok, Thailand) – There’s a new look to Thai protests, and it doesn’t involve a red or a yellow shirt, the garments favored by two perenially sparring political sides in the Southeast Asian nation.Some Thais protesting the regime of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai party-led government have taken to wearing the Guy Fawkes masks popularized by online anarchist group Anonymus, in the newly minted (and perhaps un-subtly named) “V for Thailand movement,” spurning the yellow shirts commonly associated with Shinawatra enemies.

On June 10th, hundreds of protesters wearing variations on the white and angular Guy Fawkes mask streamed past the glitzy Siam shopping area in downtown Bangok, shouting slogans and calling for the speedy departure of Ms Shinawatra — who many in the opposition feel is merely a puppet for her brother, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed in 2006 in a military coup.

V for Thailand protesters say that they want more transparency in government, especially in regards to spending, and preferably an end to ‘Thaksinomics,’ a catchy term for a series of populist and controversial economic policies that the former prime minister implemented during his five year term, as he attempted to turn the Thai economy around in the early 2000s. After Thaksin’s 2006 ouster, he and his family were hit with multiple corruption charges by the Thai government.

His assets frozen, Thaksin resides primarily in Dubai in exile, but the V for Thailand “white mask” wearers suspect that he still wields considerable power from behind the throne, operating via his sister — speculation fueled by media reports that the siblings speak often.

Protesters against the so-called puppet regime appear to have first donned the mask while protesting a plan to stop subsidies for universities, although others claim that a less-than-transparent water management plan and the censorship of a sitcom allegedly mocking the Shinawatra clan may also have given rise to the movement, per the Bangkok Post.

Whatever its origin, the internationally popular Guy Fawkes masks are now getting a considerable amount of usage in Thailand, with three protests so far this month and more planned for the near future.

The protesters weren’t just the young and disillusioned, but included many middle-aged and even elderly marchers, holding aloft signs and pumping their fists, shouting “Shinawatra Get Out” in rhythmic timing. Many signs alluded specifically to Thaksin, with considerably less ire appearing to be directed towards Yingluck herself.

Some protesters occasionally stopped to buy fresh juice and boiled corn from slightly bemused-looking street vendors, seemingly unaccustomed to this new flavor of Thai street dissent. The “V For Thailand” Facebook page now boasts over 70,000 “likes.”

An observer of the group claimed to the Bangkok Post that the movement was aimed only at disagreeing with the government and not outright toppling the regime, but the mood on the street seemed decidedly less touchy-feely than that. It’s decidedly unclear if the “White Masks” are another incarnation of the yellow masks that toppled Shinwatra the first-time around, but the movement remains very young indeed.