By Giles Ji Ungpakorn
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Thailand’s Red Shirts shake the regime

This article is over 11 years, 9 months old
Hundreds of thousands of Red Shirt demonstrators have taken to the streets of Thailand over the last few weeks, demanding democracy.
Issue 2197

Hundreds of thousands of Red Shirt demonstrators have taken to the streets of Thailand over the last few weeks, demanding democracy.

This show of force proved the strength of the movement.

It dispelled the lies of the royalist government and the media, who claim that the Red Shirts are not representative of the majority of the population.

The police and the army have attacked the movement. There were battles between protesters and the state in the capital Bangkok last weekend.

By Monday morning, 17 demonstrators and four police officers had been killed in clashes.

The Red Shirts have been holding peaceful protests in Bangkok since mid‑March, demanding that the government calls new elections.

An army coup overthrew the government of millionaire and populist politician Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.

Due to a vacuum on the left, he had managed to inspire millions of ordinary Thais.

The Red Shirts like Thaksin—but they are not just being used by him or fighting only for his return.

They want real democracy and social justice.

Thaksin and his conservative opponents are both royalists, in that they seek to use the institution to help support capitalist rule.

Neither Thaksin nor the conservative royalists intended their dispute to turn into a class war.


But the mass democracy movement is starting to question the entire elite structure, including the monarchy.

The Red Shirts have occupied roads in major cities across the country and have beaten back attempts by the state to move them.

The government shut down pro-Red Shirt media outlets on Thursday of last week, though these have now been reinstated after protests.

Monday morning saw Red Shirt protesters carry coffins through the streets to signify those killed by the police and army.

Many of the coffins were empty, but at least two contained bodies.

Jatuporn Prompan, a protest leader, said, “There is no more negotiation. Red Shirts will never negotiate with murderers.

“Although the road is rough and full of obstacles, it’s our duty to honour the dead by bringing democracy to this country.”

However, it is difficult to see how the movement’s leadership is going to turn this massive show of popular anger into a force that can overcome the army.

The vast majority of Red Shirts are poor people and their leaders are at last talking openly about a “class struggle” between the people and the elites.

But the leaders are not yet prepared to launch an all out ideological attack on the military and the monarchy.

They need to agitate among the urban working class and the lower ranks of the army in order to build up the momentum for revolutionary change.

Any compromise will leave power with the royalist elites, who have constantly frustrated democracy.

This is the most profound political crisis and unrest since the 2006 coup.

Many commentators try to explain the conflict as an elite dispute between Thaksin and the conservatives.

But the missing element in most analysis is the actions of millions of ordinary people.

Thaksin’s pro-poor policies, such as the first ever universal healthcare scheme in the country, helped him build an built an alliance with workers and peasants.

The military-backed Democrat Party government of Abhisit Vejjajiva has declared a state of emergency and issued arrest warrants for Red Shirt leaders.

It has attempted to close down internet and satellite media or websites that don’t follow the government line.

How the movement, and the Thai ruling class, respond to the dynamic situation will shape the country’s future.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a Thai socialist currently in exile in Britain. His latest book, Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy, is to be published this month

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