Yingluck Shinawatra

‘Holy traffic cones’ symbolise the turmoil that engulfs Thai politics

In the lawless political environment of Bangkok people are being bashed and stabbed for moving barriers put up by protest groups

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 9:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 10:17am

Thailand's political lexicon has a new term: the holy traffic cone.

The term went viral this week after a series of vicious attacks on motorists who moved traffic cones that anti-government protesters had arbitrarily placed near rally sites.

This is not just ridiculous and absurd, this is lawlessness

A mix of outrage and creativity sparked political cartoons and online postings, including a widely shared Facebook photograph shows five men kneeling in prayer with heads bowed to a cone on the street.

The message, "Don't touch the cone!" is circulating online. A cartoon listing objects that cannot be moved in Thailand depicts historical monuments and a traffic cone.

Thai Politictionary, a website of Thai political terms, added the term "Holy Cone" to its site on Monday. Definition: "a sacred traffic barrier" deployed by security guards for the protest movement. "Whoever dares to touch, move or destroy the cone may be physically assaulted."

The orange cone has come to symbolise the growing sense of hopelessness many Thais feel over the sometimes violent upheaval that has left the country in political disarray.

Last week a court sacked Yingluck Shinawatra as prime minister for nepotism, although her party remains heavily influenced from abroad by her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Government opponents vow to keep protesting until a new, unelected government takes over to begin reforms, while Yingluck's supporters say they will take to the streets if that happens.

Parliament was dissolved late last year, the results of partial elections in February were thrown out and it is likely that political tensions will scuttle the caretaker government's plan to hold elections in July.

Both government supporters and opponents have been blamed for violence that has killed more than 20 people and injured hundreds more since anti-government protests began in November, but it is the protest movement's "security guards" who have been accused in the recent attacks over traffic cones.

A military colonel was shot in the legs and beaten, allegedly by protest guards, on April 25 when he tried to move a cone blocking his route home.

On Friday, mobile-phone video footage showed protest guards punching a motorist through his car window after he tried to move a toll-road cone.

The third attack came on Saturday, when an ice delivery man was stabbed repeatedly in his chest and stomach for moving a cone to make a delivery. The man remains in intensive care at a Bangkok hospital.

No one has been arrested for the attacks.

"This is not just ridiculous and absurd, this is lawlessness," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University's centre for Southeast Asian studies. "The sacredness of the law has disappeared. Those opposing the government are creating a situation of lawlessness and simultaneously acting as though they're law enforcers."

Protesters have denied involvement in the attack on the ice delivery man. Luang Pu Buddha Issara, a monk who is among the protest leaders, told the Daily News newspaper he hoped the public would understand the protesters' safety concerns.