In Thailand, political turmoil has crippled the country. The current standoff between the two largest political pressure factions in the Thailand, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), threatens to undo the country. The capital, Bangkok, serves as their battleground. Barricades have been erected in the streets, and running gun battles and melees are common currency in this new environment. Worse of all, neither side is showing any sign of backing down.
Looking back on Thailand’s recent history, it comes as no surprise that it is experiencing political turmoil. In the last 81 years, there have been 18 coups. But what sets this particular event apart is the number of supporters that either side have at their disposal. To provide background on the current situation, the current crisis stems from the administration of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin is a mobile phone tycoon turned politician who was elected in 2001 under a platform of economic expansion and poverty reduction. He was reelected in 2005 in a landslide victory, but the election was marred by protests claiming that his administration was a “parliamentary dictatorship.” In 2006, while he was attending a UN summit, the army launched a coup, and he entered a period of self-imposed exile in Britain. He has been charged, in absentia, with corruption and is a wanted fugitive.
After his conviction, his opponents organized the Peoples Alliance of Democracy, or PAD, and immediately launched violent protests against the Thaksin government. Made up of middle-class and upper-class Thais, along with sympathizers from the southern portion of Thailand, PAD took over airports and government buildings, locked down the streets of Bangkok, and engaged the police in a series of violent clashes. They wanted an end to the collectivist economic policies Thaksin initiated for the farmers, for Thaksin’s influence on the government to be expunged, and for the Thai Monarchy to have more control over the Parliament. Despite the official change in Prime Ministers in 2008, PAD continued to protest, claiming that Thaksin’s cronies still controlled the government. Clashes erupted between PAD and the government, which ultimately resulted in new elections and Thaksin’s sister Yingluck was elected as Prime Minister.
Despite bitter PAD opposition, the newly mobilized electorate in the rural north, loyal to Thaksin for his efforts to improve their quality of life, had the numerical strength to vote in Yingluck Shinawatra. More impressive, supporters of the government were able to create a counter movement to PAD, named the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD). A majority of UDD hails from the North, in contrast to the mostly southern PAD. In order to distinguish themselves from the PAD, who wore yellow shirts, they wore red shirts. But they have been just as vicious in their street protests. In 2009, they effectively shut down Bangkok, and over 100,000 redshirts choked the streets. The rural north against the south. The middle and upper class against the working farmer. It is no longer just a political struggle. The very soul of the nation is at risk.
In my eyes the situation in Thailand will not be put to rest any time soon. In fact, if anything, the tension has become even more pronounced. Yingluck Shinawatra has been removed from power. Yellowshirts, the PAD, have occupied the government house in force, which invited immediate retaliation from the UDD. As the situation plays out it is becoming apparent that no matter who wins, people will die. And the violence will just continue. There is no end in sight for Thailand. For their sake, I hope it comes soon.
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