Socialist Worker

After Thailand's election crisis continues amid violence

by Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Issue No. 2392

A Yellow shirt protesting in the Thai capital of Bangkok

A "Yellow shirt" protesting in the Thai capital of Bangkok (Pic: Flickr/killerturnip)


If Democrat Party protesters, business leaders, military commanders, top civil servants, judges, NGOs, and senior academics have their way, Thai democracy will be finished. But the royalist “Yellow Shirt” conservatives in Thailand are a minority, albeit a powerful one.

The majority of ordinary people want to defend their democratic rights and have shown that they are prepared to do so since the early 1970s.

Following the recent anti-government protests, where the protesters, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, called for an end to parliamentary democracy, prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra decided to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections for February 2014.

The election failed to solve the crisis because those opposed to Shinawatra’s Pua Thai government do not respect elections and democracy.

Democrat Party thugs have used guns and grenades in broad daylight to attack ordinary people and the police. They act with impunity because the military and the judiciary support them.

It is nonsense to argue that the pro-democracy “Red Shirts” are rural villagers from the north and north-east and that Thaugsuban’s royalist supporters are Bangkok residents. 

The results from the 2011 general election showed that the Bangkok population is evenly split between Pua Thai and the Democrats.

Unrest

Another hypothesis, found in many foreign media reports, that the present long-running unrest in Thailand is primarily caused by a “crisis of royal succession”, assumes wrongly that the ageing Thai monarch has real power and that he has been constantly intervening in politics.

It also assumes that social and political crises are merely about elite rivalries with no involvement by millions of ordinary people.

The long running Thai crisis is a result of an unintentional clash between the conservative way of operating in a parliamentary democracy and a more modern one.

It is related to attempts by ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, to modernise Thai society so that the economy could become more competitive on a global level, especially after the 1996 Asian economic crisis.

The real division between the Reds and the Yellows in the current crisis is class.

There is a clear tendency for workers and poor to middle income farmers to support Yingluck’s Pua Thai Party and the Red Shirts, irrespective of geographical location.

This is because of Thaksin’s pro-poor policies of universal health care, job creation and support for rice farmers. The Thai crisis has important class dimensions, but they are complicated by the political weakness of the Left and the organised working class.

This is why Shinawatra’s Pua Thai Party can dominate and lead the Red Shirts. The immediate danger is that the elites will push for a grubby compromise that will decrease the democratic space.


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