Anyone with even a passing interest in Thailand must be aware of the political unrest here. Whilst there is a lull over the New Year, it can only become worse as the election in February looms and the protestors aim is to stop that happening. Already we have deaths, tear gas and rubber bullets and the feeling is there is much worse to come.
The fight seems simple on the surface,; a populist government (the so-called red shirts) voted for in a seemingly democratic election against the establishment economic power wielders of the country (the so-called yellow shirts). Conservative vs. Labour in the UK; Republican vs. Democrat in the US. Let the people have the government they want as long as long as we maintain the power. Give them the impression they have the power and that will keep them quiet. But the red shirt government wanted to change things, to shift power from the establishment elite to themselves (not the people of course). They wanted a slice of pie.
That gave the yellow shirts a problem because they cannot win any election here. At least not one based on one person, one vote. So they want electoral reform before the next election. They say the present government is corrupt and therefore should not be allowed to form any government (pots and kettles come to mind there). They challenge the right of of the poorer less-educated people - those who form the mainstay of the current governments supporters - to have the same voting rights as they - with their paid for university degrees in media studies - have.
Now I have huge sympathy with the latter argument. It is the problem with democracy. Why should a university professor have the same weight of vote as rice farmer who left school at twelve. But how to weight the voting system fairly. That university professor may be a racist and bigot - he may well have his own agenda. If you make people pass some fairness or openness to ideas or education requirement in the US there would only be about half a dozen people eligible to vote. No, the answer to a functioning democratic system is for all the people to be educated and free-thinking. Which of course is why no government of any colour puts money into the education system, just in case the penny drops and dogma is replaced by enlightenment.
Thailand also has a social structure that, although it is slowly changing, puts strictures on free-thinking or challenging those in authority however they may have got to that position. The mountains of Khao Yai are testament to how much Thailand has pushed under the carpet. Just as an example, Suthep, the former Democrat politician who is leading the anti-government protests, has a warrant out for his arrest because of his actions in those protests. So why isn't he arrested, he is far from in hiding. If you find the answer to that you are getting close to finding the root cause of these problems.
As another example, red shirt protestors know that Thaksin and the current government are far from pure and white. But Thaksin gave the working class people of the country the 30 baht health scheme - the equivalent if you like to Obamacare. So it would seem simple. If you want to win the hearts and minds of those people, you give them something they want. So why don't the opposition do this, then they could win the next election legitimately. Because they really do think of those people as an underclass. They are not poorly paid, hard working, poorly educated people. They are like another species. They do not deserve free health care, or good education, or clean water. It doesn't even occur to them that this is a way to act.
The majority of Thai people are polarised into yellow or red, into black and white. There is no inbetween, no shades of grey, no compromise, and until there is the fighting will continue.
So who will win? No-one. There can be no winners. Both sides feel they, and only they, should govern this country. If the country maintains a true democracy then there can only be one winner but there will be an 'over my dead body' reaction by the power brokers here before that happens. The army, somewhat more restrained at the moment than in the past, may yet take charge through a coup. But without rigging the election counting it will just return to the current status at some point in the future. For each cycle a little of the traditional power base will be eroded but to be replaced by what. A different colour of politician who, with a weakened opposition, may soon forget those very people that put them there.
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