The Thai ruling elite would do well not to underestimate the red-shirted rebels – Published on The Guardian, Editorial, April 13, 2010.
The continuing tumult in Thailand, which this weekend saw the worst violence in nearly 20 years, is too often portrayed as a clash between two forces that behave as badly as each other: the rural poor, spurred on by the ousted tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, versus a military- and monarchist-backed elite. One tribe wears red shirts and the other yellow, but they both use the same tactics, the argument goes. It ill behoves the current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to be too surprised by the red-shirted invasion of the summit held by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Pattaya, when the yellow shirts, some of whose representatives are included in the current cabinet, laid siege to both airports, forcing the resignation of the government. The difference is that no one fired on the yellow shirts in 2008.
Something fundamental could be happening this time. Thaksin said that now that the military had put tanks on the streets, it was time for a revolution. It may not be quite the one the oligarch envisages. If, as the political scientist Giles Ji Ungpakorn wrote on our website, the protests represent a larger social movement, then the red shirts are not just pushing for the return of their hero, Mr Thaksin. They are staking out for themselves a larger role in a society dominated by the urban elites.
It is premature to talk about a republican threat to the monarchist order, although King Bhumipol Adulyadej remains frail and silent, even when the protesters have targeted his principal adviser, General Prem Tinsulanonda. But it has obviously not been good for the palace to allow itself to be so closely linked to the military and conservative elite, at a time when the country is shaken by the weekend’s death toll and the royal succession still lies ahead. If the king used to represent stability and compromise, his association by default with the status quo only further polarises Thai society … (full text).