Thailand’s simmering tensions raise question of stability
Ongoing protests suggest another prolonged period of civil unrest looming
An anti-government protester rests next to a banner during a rally outside the Government House in Bangkok on Thursday. The fresh round of anti-government protests has raised the question whether Thailand could again be subject to a prolonged period of civil unrest. Photograph: Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters
The fresh round of protests has raised the question whether Thailand could again be subject to a prolonged period of civil unrest, and just how stable is one of southeast Asia’s more successful democracies. Also, what about the other colour in Thai politics, the olive green or camouflage of army fatigues that has staged dozens of coups in the past century?
Red- and yellow-shirted demonstrators have taken to the streets of the Thai capital once more, and so far, the protests have seen government buildings occupied, yet again, and the death of five people and more than 300 wounded.
The family of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is traditionally backed by the red shirts, who love her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted by a military coup and exiled in 2006, but who has strong residual influence in the government. Yingluck was democratically elected by a landslide and her Puea Thai Party controls parliament, an assembly she has dissolved and which will go to the polls in February 2nd snap elections.
Yellow-shirted opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban is a veteran politician who quit the mainstream opposition to lead the protesters, and is aware it will probably lose the election.
Instead, he wants parliament suspended and replaced by an unelected people’s council made up of appointed “good people”.
The yellow shirts largely reflect the interests of Bangkok’s moneyed elite.
Suthep is fond of what can be described as, at best, fiery rhetoric and wants police to arrest Yingluck for treason.
The red and yellow shirts have been at each other’s throats since the tycoon fled, but Thaksin and his family remain the popular choice in Thailand
Despite Yingluck’s efforts to play down his influence, he remains a powerful force, and has held cabinet meetings by webcam from his villa in Dubai.
A Bangkok Post newspaper editorial said Yingluck would probably win the election. “But it will not resolve the deeply entrenched political conflict which has practically divided the country into two main rival political groups, the pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin, and those in the middle.”
Yingluck’s government is seen as inept and corrupt by the opposition, who see her as a proxy for her exiled brother.
The Shinawatras have a weakness for populist measures. The prime minister has maintained her popularity with her red-shirt supporters by introducing affordable healthcare, low interest loans and a vast infrastructure programme.