Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thailand’s crisis is not only about different political factions vying for power, a struggle between haves and have-nots or Bangkok and rural areas, but is also about two different ways of envisaging Thai society. This in turn may eventually affect the country’s socio-political system. In the meantime, as Thais try to celebrate their New Year (Songkran festival, 12-15 April); the economy is suffering, with losses in the stock market and a decline in tourism.
The main opposition group, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), has rejected the government’s offer to dissolve parliament and hold elections in six months time. Red-shirt leaders, who support exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said they are not planning any new move in the next few days, but they insist that they will continue to hold the areas in the capital already under their control.
Their demands have found some support in the military. Army chief Anupong Paojinda yesterday said the only solution to the country's political stalemate was the dissolution of parliament. Political leaders, he believes, must find a political solution.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who said he would not resign, insisted that the demonstrators who “attacked” security forces last Saturday were “terrorists”. About ten people died in the ensuing clashes and more than 800 were injured. Still, for him a distinction must be made between those who cause disorder and those who demonstrate peacefully.
Fr Raffaele Manenti, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) who has been in Thailand for the past 16 years, told AsiaNews that today’s conflict “has its roots in the past, and that many issues are now coming to the surface with a vengeance.”
Red-shirted protesters are partisans of Thaksin. Unlike other administrations, including Abhisit’s, the ousted prime minister “adopted measures favourable to the population” and did simply not favour Bangkok-based elites.
The fact that the current government was not elected is another reason for popular resent. The red-shirts bring together “a number of opposition movements, once tied to Thaksin, who is operating behind the scene in order to get back into power,” Fr Manenti said.
People in rural areas want the government to pay more attention to their needs and put more resources into the countryside. Unless this is done, the authorities “run the risk of a long-term crisis”.
With tourism imploding at a key moment like the Songkran festival, the economy could experience serious repercussions.
A political expert, who asked for anonymity, told AsiaNews that we are faced with “two ways of envisaging Thai society. Intellectuals, recent graduates and professionals have joined the red-shirts.
“We are facing a social revolution whose outcome is not yet clear,” she said. “Beside the economy, the socio-political system and future changes are the other key factors. No one is explicitly talking about it, but they will profoundly affect Thailand’s culture and traditions.”
Some have suggested that Thaksin’s removal is connected to an attempt to change the constitution and start a process that would see the monarchy give way to a republic. However, even though King Bhumibol is old and ailing, he remains an immensely popular figure, and is backed by the military. Any talk of regime change is taboo.
Buddhist traditions are also deeply embedded in Thai society. Peace and non-violence are strong. This is why the military is exercising self-restraint, the source told AsiaNews.
A recent survey showed that 90 per cent of the population is against the violence of recent days.
“Elections are coming; the question is which date would satisfy both government and demonstrators,” she said. (DS)