Nearly a week after the event, Thailand is still stunned by the military assault on the Red Shirt encampment in the tourist center of the capital city of Bangkok on May 19. The Thai government is treating captured Red Shirt leaders and militants like they’re from an occupied country. No doubt about it: A state of civil war exists in this country, and civil wars are never pretty.
The last few weeks have hardened the Bangkok middle class in its view that the Red Shirts are “terrorists” in the pocket of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. At the same time, they have convinced the lower classes that their electoral majority counts for nothing. “Pro-Thaksin” versus “Anti-Thaksin”: This simplified discourse actually veils what is — to borrow Mao’s words — a class war with Thai characteristics … //
… Who Ordered Whom?
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajeva ordered the assault. But the question is: Who gave Abhisit, who responds to powerful figures within the Thai elite, the green light? The army command apparently didn’t favor an assault on civilians and neither did the police, who largely favored the Red Shirts. General Prem Tinsulanonda, known as “Prem” to many Red Shirt partisans, is the most influential figure in the Royal Privy Council. Some Red Shirts may well believe that Prem, whom they see as a master of intrigue, is the villain of the piece. But what other Red Shirts mean by “Prem” includes others in positions of great authority.
Any suggestion that the King Bhumibol Adulyadej had something to do with the crackdown would be vehemently disputed by highly respected politician Anand Panyarachun. Anand said that, in his experience as prime minister, King Bhumibol always observed the constitutional rules of the game. He only provided advice “on request” and left it up to the political players to decide what to do. ‘This is what happened in May 1992, when he brought Chamlong and Suchinda [the warring leaders] together and said it would be desirable for them to do what was in the best interest of the people,” Anand says. “He never specifies what is to be done.”
Whatever the role of the king in the recent tragedy — if indeed he had any role at all —the Thai public is now engaged in a more explicit discussion of the role of the monarchy, something that used to be shrouded with vague allusions.
Democracy and its Discontents
How did Thailand get to this point? Perhaps the place to begin is May 1992, when the dictatorship of General Suchinda Kraprayoon gave way to a new era of democratic governance. Between 1992 and 1997, elections produced three coalitions. But these coalitions were parliamentary formations dominated by traditional party bosses and elites who delivered command votes, particularly in the rural areas, through their control of economic and bureaucratic sources of wealth. Little was done to address the social grievances of the urban and rural poor … (full text).
(Walden Bello is a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines and author of A Siamese Tragedy: Development and Disintegration in Modern Thailand (London: Zed, 1998). Global Research Articles by Walden Bello).