Foreign Policy Blogs

Snap Election Called in Thailand

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Unable to mollify ongoing demonstrations staged by anti-government protestors throughout Bangkok over the past several weeks, Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved Parliament on Monday and called for snap elections to take place in the beginning of February.

The announcement from the country’s first female premier did little to deter the protestors, estimated at around 150,000, from again congregating around Government House and accusing the administration of being a puppet regime for Yingluck’s older brother. Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecoms mogul and former prime minister, was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 2006 and convicted of graft in absentia. A lightning rod for controversy, his return to the country under a proposed — and now failed — amnesty bill has been the single most divisive issue in Thailand over the past year and a half and played the key role in the government’s collapse. Thaksin has always maintained the charges brought against him were politically motivated.

Five people were killed last week when protestors clashed with riot police in the capital. It was unclear if the casualties were protestors or bystanders caught up in the chaos. Moreover, a foreign journalist with ties to the typically pro-Shinawatra Red Shirts was pummeled by anti-government demonstrators, causing an uproar amongst the foreign correspondents crowd of Facebook. 90 Red Shirt protestors were killed in 2010 when the opposition Democrat Party was in power.

Divisions in Thailand can best be observed along class lines. The anti-government factions comprise socialites, some military personnel, and business leaders, all underpinned by a near hysterical support of the monarchy. They are commonly known as Yellow Shirts, the color of the monarchy, although in recent protests the prescribed yellow garb has not been universally donned the way it was during demonstrations in 2008 against a pro-Thaksin government.

The poor, rural majority are know as Red Shirts, and come from the country’s hinterland provinces. The Red Shirts had been supporters of Thaksin and helped elect Yingluck and the Pheu Thai Party in 2011. However, as reported last week, many in the Red Shirt movement have lost faith in the Shinawatras and may consider running candidates in the upcoming election on another party platform.

Tautologically, an election will certainly be a contentious affair. It is also unlikely to solve any of the long-standing issues which plague the country, regardless of the outcome. Thailand has become a very poignant example of class struggle being waged both on the streets and at the ballot box. Such a war will only end “in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

Photo: Reuters

 

Author

Tim LaRocco
Tim LaRocco

Tim LaRocco is an adjunct professor of political science at St. Joseph's College in New York. He was previously a Southeast Asia based journalist and his articles have appeared in a variety of political affairs publications. He is also the author of "Hegemony 101: Great Power Behavior in the Regional Domain" (Lambert, 2013). Tim splits his time between Long Island, New York and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Twitter: @TheRealMrTim.

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