What Instigated The Political Turmoil In Thailand?

The clashes between the anti government protesters ‘red shirts’ and government forces started last March 18 and it has been going on for more than 2 months, until last Wednesday May 19, the long political stand off has ended when the protesters surrendered to the authorities.

The ‘red shirts’ protesters mostly supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted due to corruption by a bloodless 2006 military coup.

The ‘red shirt’ see the current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as a front for the established Thailand’s elite and military who came to power not in an election but in a parliamentary fix in December 2008.

The ‘red shirts’ are the organized group known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). They are backed by the rural poor, loyal to Thaksin because of his welfare and rural development policies while he was prime minister during the period of 2001 to 2006.

With the development, they also draw support with the urban working class as well. Despite his conviction of corruption last February of this year, many ‘red shirts’ believed that the graft cases were an attempt to keep Thaksin out of politics after the military coup.

Not all ‘red shirts’ backed Thaksin though, they were unanimously angered by the manner of his removal and believed that democratic process was undermined by powerful, unelected personalities who wanted to get rid of him.

The United for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) operates bunches of local radio stations, website, a TV channel and shops. They claimed that they have scores of organizations running UDD political schools and accordingly set up a ‘people’s army’ of militias, but the UDD has denied any paramilitary movement.

Opponents of ‘red shirts’ have said , that they are being used by Thaksin for his personal interest. The ‘red shirts’, however has said that their campaign is a fight for democracy and against Thailand’s elite, royal advisers, influential businessmen, military generals and the judiciary who they said have conspired to overthrow the elected government to maintain their wealth and power.

The UDD has stood firm that the current prime minister coalition government of Abhisit is a farce because it has not been elected by the people. It was form only with the backing of the army after a ruling of pro Thaksin party was dissolved.

UDD are confident that if their demand to the current ruling government for a new election is to be held, the pro Thaksin party according to them would win. It Is widely seen that Thaksin is the de facto leader of both UDD and pro Thaksin party.

He fled Thailand in 2008 and was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for corruption. His $1.40 billion family assets was ordered seized by the court deemed to have been amassed through abuse of power while in office.

In April 2009, ‘the red shirt’ has blockaded the prime minister’s office for three weeks and shut down other key intersections in Bangkok. They also forced the cancellation of an Asian summit and hundreds of them battled for 14 hours with troops and they only give in when they saw that they were already surrounded.

Last May 19 (Wednesday), leaders of anti-government protests has surrendered to government troops and told supporters accordingly to end their rally. Their decision came after the troops enter their protest area, storming their barricades in armored cars. At least five people were killed in gun battles, bringing the toll from the protests to more than 40 since it started.

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