Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Blood on the streets of Bangkok

Last night, as the West slept, protestors on the streets of Bangkok prepared themselves for a military crackdown. As of this morning four of them, along with an Italian journalist, are dead.

No one knows what will happen in the coming days or even the coming hours. The protest leaders have called for a surrender to avoid further bloodshed, but pockets of resistance remain and sporadic demonstrations have broken out it other Thai cities.

The Red Shirt movement leading the protests (formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship or UDD) is by no means perfect. A loose left grouping, it is closely aligned to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra whose time in office was marred by corruption, embezzlement and a less than spotless human rights record.

But their grievances are legitimate. In 2006 Thaksin was forced from power by a military coup. In the first post-coup election, his allies won – but that government was then brought down by the Yellow Shirt Movement (an anti-Thaksin royalist grouping formally known as the People’s Alliance for Democracy). A court ruling banned Thaksin’s allies from government and some of them subsequently defected – allowing the current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to come to power without any elections.

It is easy to sympathise with the Red Shirt view that an unelected government, held in place by a highly politicised military, is hardly democratic.

Furthermore, the government set the scene for the bloodshed of last night and this morning. By refusing to negotiate with the Red Shirts until they disbanded their protest camp, military action was always going to be the only result. The government effectively said “throw away your one bargaining chip – then we’ll talk.” It was an offer that the Red Shirt leaders could never accept and they knew that.

Ultimately -coming to the table would not have made the government look weak, as they feared. It would have made them look democratic. Far more democratic than ploughing armoured vehicles through the protest camp and ordering an all-too-eager army to fire on their own people.

Abhisit and his allies have a lot to answer for.

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