The Red Shirt movement (The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship) was organized in 2006 in response to the military coup. It fights for the rights of the poor and for the restoration of democracy. Many in the movement want Thaksin back. The red shirts are strong in the populous northern and northeastern Thailand and also among the immigrants in Bangkok.
In the spring of 2010, they occupied parts of downtown Bangkok and demanded that new elections be called. For a while it looked like they were going to sign an agreement with Abhisit’s government, but then they chose to fight on instead of signing. It was a fatal mistake. The army launched a frontal attack on May 19 and defeated the insurgency. Many protesters were killed. In the hour of defeat, the last protesters set fire to 27 downtown buildings, which are now under renovation. In all, six soldiers and more than 80 protesters and spectators were killed during the street fighting in April and May.
In 2011, both red shirts and yellow shirts frequently demonstrate in the streets again. The Yellows will go harder against Cambodia, while the Reds will have new elections. Their leaders were arrested for nine months before being released on bail on February 22, 2011.
5: What will happen – three possibilities
What’s going to happen now? Three possibilities stand out:
- There will be new elections without too much cheating. Thaksin’s supporters win again, forming a new government that sits until the next crisis.
- New elections are held where the authorities ensure sufficient electoral fraud so that Thaksin’s supporters do not get a majority. Abhisit can continue, or a new center-right government will be formed.
- The army seizes power in a coup. When the government was so tough in the settlement with the red shirts in the spring of 2010, it was partly because it was to appoint a new commander-in-chief for the army the same autumn. It became General Prayuth Chan-ocha. When Thaksin was in power, he tried to place his followers in important command posts, but they have since been purged or placed in positions without power.
6: Are the conflicts related?
Peace researchers talk about three types of armed conflict:
- Between states
- Between a government and rebels fighting for secession
- Between a government and rebels who want to take over government power
According to SPORTSQNA.COM, Thailand now has all three types at once.
The conflicts are undoubtedly connected.
When the uprising in the south really took hold in 2001, after the 1990s had been fairly calm, it was partly because Thaksin wanted to show action. He had no understanding of the conditions in the south and thought he could sort it out by cracking down hard on anyone who created unrest. The result was instead that he provoked a sharp escalation. Before Thaksin resigned in 2006, the government modified its policy. Since then, the policy has been further improved, but the government does not go far enough in meeting the Malays.
The controversy over Preah Vihear, for his part, would hardly have been militarized if it had not been for the yellow shirts. They demonstrate every time they think the government is too lenient with Cambodia. The protesters have managed to prevent the government from conducting normal diplomacy. It is also speculated that the fighting in February 2011 may have been provoked by forces in the army that want to lay the groundwork for a future coup.
7: Why is Thailand so haunted?
Why does Thailand have so many and angry conflicts? A fundamental reason is the major economic changes that took place during Thailand’s strong economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s and which continued in the 2000s after a break during the 1997-98 Asian crisis. The growth created new large fortunes, not least in the telecommunications and IT industry. Both Thaksin and the leader of the yellow shirts, Sondhi Limthongkul, are “upstarts” who made a fortune during this period and challenged the old power elite.
To become rich in Thailand, it is important to have influence over political decisions. Winning a government license is the key to huge revenues. As prime minister, Thaksin became rich even faster than before. At the same time, he became more and more popular, more and more red as he came into conflict with the powerful circles around the royal house and former general Prem Tinsulanondo (1920–).
Thaksin appealed to the masses and transferred large resources to the countryside through bold and controversial reforms. Yellow-shirt leader Sondhi, who had originally been one of Thaksin’s buses, chose instead to focus on a patriotic loyalty to the royal family and army.
Almost like the areas in the north and east, the Malay Muslim areas in the south had also lagged behind in development, not least in relation to the Thai Buddhist tourist destinations along the coast. But leading Malaysians did not want an invasion of lightly dressed tourists. They fought instead of shielding their ancient culture.
The conflicts in Thailand have become a mixture of power struggles between elite groups, conflicts between city and country, between rich and poor, red and yellow, Malays and Thais. There are also those who believe that it is all about the succession to the old king when he dies. He will soon be 84 years old, and the Crown Prince is far from being held like him.