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Thailand in Yellow and Red

BANGKOK – After three consecutive years of deadly street protests, Thailand has arrived at the point where it will need to hold new elections, as the current term of its national assembly expires this December. Indeed, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has indicated that he will call for the dissolution of the lower house by the first week of May. This follows a parliamentary no-confidence motion, which his government barely survived. Accordingly, the stage is set for a general election at mid-year.

But, in view of the political volatility of recent years, this semblance of stability and constitutional regularity is deceptive. Echoing popular movements elsewhere, Thailand remains locked in conflict and polarization between an entrenched regime propping up Abhisit and burgeoning new voices clamoring for enfranchisement. Any peaceful outcome to this conflict will require far-sighted concessions and compromises.

Thailand’s street politics during this political crisis date back to 2005, when the corrupt and abusive government of Thaksin Shinawatra, which had been re-elected in a landslide that year, was toppled by a military coup. Two years later, after the military regime rammed through a new constitution, Thaksin’s proxy political party won another election, as his popular base of “red shirts” in Thailand’s downtrodden northeast and northern regions remained loyal to him.

Thaksin’s yellow-clad royalist foes, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), took to the streets against him again in 2008, as the judiciary ordered the dissolution of his party for the second time. In April 2009, and again in April-May 2010, the disenfranchised red shirts camped in the streets of Bangkok to demand new elections, but were dispersed by the army, with 91 fatalities.