The likeliest outcome of the latest protests is a messy, inconclusive stalemate
By: Time Online
Street violence has become such a feature of Thai political protest in the past two years that its absence almost seems a mark of failure.
Today's gathering in Bangkok of opponents of Abhisit Vejjajiva, the the Prime Minister, was not the million-man parade promised by its organisers, or the orgy of mob violence predicted by his supporters. Even if it does turn nasty, it is unlikely either to bring about the change of government demanded by the Red Shirts, or to mark their eclipse.
By last night, it had developed into a staring match between Mr Abhisit and the Red Shirt leadership. Having rallied in central Bangkok, the demonstrators are threatening to disperse to strategic points in the city, to disrupt traffic, commerce and the city’s routine. Mr Abhisit must do all he can to avoid this, but delicately, to avoid creating martyrs who would further inspire and enrage the Reds.
If the demonstrators can paralyse Bangkok, or provoke the Government into a crude crackdown, Mr Abhisit will be the loser; if he can contain the protest, and reduce it to no more than a noisy nuisance, then he will come out the stronger.
The likeliest outcome is a messy, inconclusive stalemate in which neither side lands a knockout blow, and the loser is Thailand itself – its credibility among foreign investors, its tourist industry, and its once powerful sense of national unity.
Spectacles such as the one in Bangkok this weekend are symptomatic of a division which seems to grow deeper with every year.
On the one hand are the Red Shirts – largely farmers and the urban working class, excluded for years from Thai politics until the coming of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted as prime minister in a military coup.
On the other are the Bangkok elite, and their leader, the old Etonian Mr Abhisit – cosmopolitan, educated, but incapable of commanding the respect of the rural poor.
Both have numerous and passionate supporters; between them, they have split Thailand down the middle.
If this week’s confrontations are less violent than those that have gone before, they will nonetheless be passionate in their intensity, or tragic in their implications.