Q+A: What’s going on in Thailand?

By Alan Raybould

BANGKOK (BestGrowthStock) – A five-year political crisis in Thailand has descended into violence in the past two months and at least 66 people have been killed as protesters, some of them armed, have battled troops on the streets of the capital.

A climax to the most recent bout of violence appeared close on Monday but a deadline for protesters to leave their sprawling camp in the heart of Bangkok passed without incident. Troops have tried to block roads to starve them out, but fighting has erupted in new areas.

The crisis has paralyzed parts of Bangkok, scared off tourists and undermined the economy, threatening to derail a recovery from recession that was picking up steam at the turn of the year. Following are the main questions about the events:


It’s the most serious eruption of violence yet in a long-running crisis that pits the rural and urban poor, known as the red shirts by the clothing they generally wear, against an “establishment elite” made up of royalists, big business, the military brass and well-to-do Bangkokians.

The red shirts accuse the latter of colluding to bring down governments led or backed by ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist former telecoms tycoon ousted in a 2006 coup and now in self-imposed exile to escape a jail sentence for corruption.

The red shirts say that, after a pro-Thaksin ruling party was dissolved by the courts in late 2008, the military influenced a parliamentary vote that brought British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva to power as prime minister.

At one level, the protesters are simply taking aim at the way Abhisit’s coalition took over from a pro-Thaksin government. But — and this has become more prominent the longer the protest has gone on — they are also fighting for real democracy and a bigger share of the cake for the poor.


When their rally started in mid-March, they wanted Abhisit to resign immediately and fresh elections. Earlier this month, they accepted his offer of an election in mid-November but added new demands, such as charges against a deputy prime minister relating to clashes in April in which 25 people died in one night.

However, the red shirts — formally known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) — have a 22-member leadership council and don’t always speak with one voice.

They are split between moderates who may have parliamentary ambitions and therefore favor ending the protest soon and, at the other extreme, hardliners who want to press on and bring down the government.

Some leaders face terrorism charges punishable by death; they may therefore want immunity before agreeing to end the protest.

In the longer term, their stated aim, is a political, social, legal and economic system that is not weighted against the poor or run by an unelected elite.


The latest bout of violence has hardened positions on both sides, making any deal difficult.

Abhisit has withdrawn his offer of a November 14 election and says he will offer no more olive branches after the red shirts refused to end their protest.

For their part, the protesters want the troops withdrawn before agreeing to talks. The government has said no. Officially, talks have ended. Privately, sources on both sides say back-channel talks continue between the government and moderate protest leaders, although one government source expressed doubts any of the “red shirt” leaders had full control of the crowd, especially the more militant elements.


The army has strengthened checkpoints around the protesters’ fortified encampment covering 3 sq kms (1.2 sq miles) of central Bangkok full of embassies, hotels, malls, office towers and upmarket apartment blocks that have steadily emptied.

The military is attempting to throw a security cordon around the encampment to stop people and supplies coming in. They have made some progress, but new flashpoints have emerged in several areas around the camp.

The army has repeatedly said it was unwilling to storm into the encampment through barricades of tires and bamboo stakes.

Several thousand people, including women, children and armed militants, are generally present. A crackdown would probably end in a victory of sorts for the security forces, but the almost inevitable bloodshed could inflame passions in “red shirt” strongholds in the north and northeast of the country, opening new fronts.

The military had offered to let rank-and-file protesters walk out of the camp by 3 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Monday and go home. None appeared to take up the offer.

Some red shirt leaders face arrest warrants on charges that

include treason, which may be punishable by death. They will be reluctant to surrender without some offer of immunity.


It has already decimated the tourist industry, deterred investment and hit consumer confidence, which suffered a record drop in April.

The occupation of Bangkok’s ritziest shopping area has forced hotels, malls and offices to close their doors and lay off staff.

The tourist sector makes up only 6 percent of the economy but employs 15 percent of the national workforce, so there will be a knock-on effect on spending if tourists stay away for any length of time and jobs disappear for good.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij has said the protests could cut 0.3 point off his 4.5-5.0 percent growth forecast for this year.

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(Editing by Martin Petty)

Q+A: What’s going on in Thailand?