Thailand on the Precipice

BANGKOK – The two-month siege of downtown Bangkok by the so-called “Red Shirts” has ended in bloodshed. More than 60 people, including two foreign reporters and a few soldiers, died in the Thai army’s suppression of the urban rebellion.

The Thai government had no choice but to use force after negotiations with the protestors broke down. Both sides deeply mistrusted the other, even though the government’s five-point “road map” for a peaceful resolution implicitly acknowledged the existence of serious socioeconomic problems and included an early general election this November – a concession to the protestors, who argue that the government lacks legitimacy because it was never elected.

Much of Thailand is now under an all-night curfew, imposed after radical Red Shirts set fire to more than 35 landmark buildings in Bangkok. The militants’ targets included branches of Bangkok Bank, the country’s largest and a pillar of the establishment; Siam Square, owned by the Palace; and a deluxe shopping mall owned by one of the richest Thai Chinese families.

That anarchic fury reflected the disappointment of radicals at their leaders for prematurely surrendering to the authorities rather than fighting to their last breath.  Those who did not surrender wanted to show their defiance.  The fires were also a volcanic outburst of class hatred by the disenfranchised, rural and urban, against the Bangkok-based wealthy ruling class.