There have been anti-government protests and a permanent protest camp in Bangkok since November 2013. With growing frequency protesters have been shot; bombs have injured dozens and killed several.
The protestors are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and for a “People’s Council” to take her place. The opposition say the council would be unelected but would oversee a transition to new elections and an end to Government corruption.
In response, the Government has called for elections on 2 February.
The Democratic Party (DP), whose supporters make up the majority of the protestors, and are known as “yellow shirts”, will boycott the election. In the meantime the Government has declared a state of emergency in response to growing instability, and the threat of a military coup, a repeat of an event which took place in 2006 against the previous administration of Thaksin Shinawatra.
Pro-government “red shirts” are protesting as well. Yingluck Shinawatra is Thaksin’s sister, and her party, the Pheu Thai Party, is seen as a successor to her brother’s Thai Rack Thai party.
The anti-government protesters view Yingluck as a proxy for her exiled brother, who is believed to be trying to re-enter frontline Thai politics. An amnesty bill which would have allowed for his return was defeated in the Thai Senate, and the section of the Thai bourgeoisie virulently hostile to Shinawatra and his support in rural and Northern Thailand has instigated the current round of protests.
Thailand’s National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC) has confirmed it will investigate the current government's proposals to amend the constitution to make all senate seats elected, as well as potential corruption in its rice subsidy program.
As Solidarity said previously, “politically the red shirts are not a working class or peasant force. They are tarred by their relationship to Thaksin Shinawatra, who has provided financial backing for them and retains a level of support within the organisation. The red shirts are at best a petty bourgeois movement”.
However this does not mean workers’ sympathy should be with the opposition who oppose not just the alleged corruption of Shinawatra but also policies that have brought in greater access to healthcare for the rural poor and have improved the living standards for many of Thailand’s poorest.
Whilst the anti-government protests are significant in Bangkok, such hostility does not extend throughout the country. This split has led to a red shirt claim that the anti-government protest leaders want to divide Thailand between the urban centres and the poorer, rural north.
Supporters of democracy in Thailand should note that neither of these wings of the Thai ruling class opposes the repressive lèse majesté law against insulting the King, which has led to numerous activists being jailed, including left wing democracy campaigner Somyot Pruksakasemsuk.
Any attempt to block the elections on 2 February whether by the protesters or the military should be opposed, but reliance on the populism of the Shinawatras is a dead end and distraction from the much needed independent working-class opposition.