ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Red vs Yellow in Thailand

A republican current in Thailand challenges traditional elite rule.

The events of 2006-08 in Thailand, which featured street protests calling for the removal of the then incumbent prime ministers, are being reprised in the present show are being reprised in the present show the present showdown between the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, or the “Red Shirts” as they are called, and the incumbent government led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The difference from two years ago is that those protests were led by the royalist “Yellow Shirts” of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). They first targeted the Thaksin Shinawatra-led government that was removed by a coup d’etat and then directed themselves against the regrouped Thaksin-supported People’s Power Party that was in power for some months in 2008. In many ways, the current set of protests led by the Red Shirts, who comprise not only Thaksin supporters, but also many from the Thai underclass and the rural areas, is a reaction to the murder of democracy that was enacted in the streets by the PAD with more than a nod from the royal family and the ruling elite who have dominated Thai politics for decades. In other words, the current face-off is a fallout of the coup against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who is now exiled and has taken Montenegrin citizenship.

The government of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party, which was deposed in its second term faced with countless allegation of corruption, malfeasance, concentration of power and serious human rights violations. The junta that later came to power managed to ban the Thai Rak Thai party, send Thaksin to exile and also froze much of the Thaksin family assets, a large part of which is alleged to have been amassed during his five-year stint in power. Yet the Thaksin government was also quite popular for its many populist policies – provisions for universal healthcare, launch of micro-credit programmes for villages, the fight against drugs – that aided in a dramatic reduction of rural poverty and a recovery from the 1997 east Asian crisis. The unseating of that government sowed the seeds for the current breakdown in the country’s constitutional order, virtually reducing political contestation to competitive street protests by the Yellow and Red Shirts. Last year saw street battles between the two groups and an escalation in protests resulted in a violent conflagration on 10 April 2010, leaving more than two dozen dead and nearly 800 injured.

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