Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Strife in Thailand

Credit: Prachatai webboard

Strife in Thailand
Published: April 13 2010 20:33 | Last updated: April 13 2010 20:33
Financial Times

What little legitimacy the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva had is evaporating. Until blood was spilt on the streets of Bangkok last weekend, Mr Abhisit could at least claim that his administration was preparing for a peaceful resolution of Thailand’s long-festering political tensions. Now, with 21 people dead, with a discredited constitution still in place and with red-shirted protesters still feeling disenfranchised, that claim looks increasingly thin. What is more, the situation could deteriorate further. The red-shirted supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted from power in a 2006 coup d’etat, have hardened their negotiating stance. The danger is of worse clashes and an escalating death toll.

That is a tragedy Thailand can, and must, avoid. The army must resist any temptation to do what it has done too many times before: resolve democratic strife through military intervention. Mr Abhisit should call an election as quickly as possible. He must do so knowing full well that his chances of winning are slim. Victory is more likely to go to parties aligned with Mr Thaksin, whose deeply flawed premiership nevertheless revolutionised Thai politics by enfranchising the poor from the north and north-east. That genie cannot be put back in the bottle.
Thailand’s deep political rift will be extremely difficult to heal. The red-shirts must play a part by assuring the government that free and fair elections are possible. Mr Abhisit has spoken – with some justification – of a climate of fear that makes it difficult for pro-government politicians to campaign in red-shirt strongholds. If the opposition is willing to create the climate for smooth elections, Thailand’s more conservative forces must be prepared to abide by the results.

The king could help by calling for all Thai’s to accept the will of the majority. After Mr Thaksin was removed by military force, two prime ministers loyal to him were ousted by what appeared to be a selective application of the constitution. That sense of arbitrariness must end. If Thais can move beyond a colour-coded schism that has seen politics fought on the streets, they might just discover there are as many things that unite as divide them. If they cannot, the future for Thailand looks bleak indeed.

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