People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 15

April 19, 2009


Strong Anti-Government Protests In Thailand

R Arun Kumar

THAILAND is in the midst of a political turmoil. Thousands of protestors have stormed the national capital, Bangkok and vented their anger against the policies of the government. These protests caught the attention of the entire world when they successfully disrupted the ASEAN summit. The protestors barged through the security blanket thrown around the hotel accommodating the ASEAN leaders and the meeting area. This had forced the Thailand government to evacuate the leaders through helicopters. In another major embarrassment to the government, the prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had narrowly escaped from being attacked while his close aide was not so lucky. The government immediately proclaimed emergency thinking that this would bring a halt to the protest demonstrations. As we are witnessing today, this move not only failed in its intention but only added to the growing resentment among the people.

Thailand in these eighteen months had witnessed a lot of political action. In 2006, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was re-elected as the prime minister of the country with popular mandate, was ousted in a military coup. This was the 19th instance of military coup since the 1930s. This coup had the tacit support of the royal family of Thailand. A trial on the charges of corruption was run on Shinawatra and he was convicted after which he had fled the country violating his bail conditions. The constitution of the country was re-drawn and elections were held once again after a year under the aegis of the military. Even these controlled elections failed to wean away people from supporting the party of Shinawatra. The people once again gave Shinawatra’s party a majority in the legislature that led to the election of one of the close supporters of the Shinawatra, Somachi as the prime minister. This election too was challenged in the constitutional court and the anti-Thaksin People Alliance for Democracy, a loose grouping of businessmen and urban middle class, backed by the military and state bureaucracy of the country had organised protests against the government. They had claimed these elections to be a fraud and paralysed the country. These protests were characterised by their siege of the international airport in Bangkok, last year. The colour of their campaign paraphernalia—yellow—was to symbolise their support for the monarchy. The constitutional court agreed with them and disqualified the pro-Thaksin prime minister. Fact of the matter is, there was no clear evidence of fraud. The constitutional court declared the elections as null and banned the party for five years from contesting the elections. Thus the stage was laid for the present ruling party to win the elections with minimum opposition.

Though Abhisit who became the premier was elected in a popular mandate, the conditions were completely managed and he does not enjoy the support of a majority of people. Abhisit's election marked for the first time that his Democrat Party - Thailand's oldest - had formed a government in eight years. The vote was the result of weeks of manoeuvring to persuade several minor parties which had supported the previous government to switch sides.

The policies followed by the government in the period of severe economic recession that had engulfed the entire world too had added fuel to the simmering discontent against the government. The resentment towards the conservative Thai elites is being compounded by the rapid deterioration of the country’s export-dependent economy, which is predicted to contract this year for the first time since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. Exports fell by 25.3 percent in January compared to the previous year. The Bank of Thailand has forecast that 1.07 million people would lose their jobs this year if there were a zero growth rate. Most analysts are now predicting that the economy might contract 2 to 3 percent. All the efforts of the government to stimulate the economy are failing to prop it up because of the inherent class bias imbibed in them. Though it had introduced an intensive job retraining programme, it will handle only 240,000 of the more than 1 million people expected to lose their jobs this year. According to the Finance ministry of the country, Thailand's jobless rate is expected to jump to 3.8 per cent this year, representing about 1.4 million people out of work, from 1.4 percent at the end of last year. Thousands of jobs in the key manufacturing and export sectors are being shed as demand for Thai electronics, auto parts and other goods are drying up due to global economic slowdown.

So the present protests are a vent to the growing anger of the working class, poor and the rural people who are hard hit by the economic crisis. The military, which helped install Abhisit in December, treated last year’s anti-Thaksin protests with kid gloves but had no such compunction on the recent spate of demonstrations. Troops surrounded the protestors and threatened a bloodbath. Automatic weapons were used and several rounds of shots were fired on the people, killing and injuring many in the process. The police and judiciary, which took no action as demonstrators occupied Bangkok’s airports last year, are now preferring charges of illegal assembly and creating public disturbance against the leaders of the protests.

Thailand joins Iceland and other countries where popular anger against the economic crisis, coupled with the political turmoil in their respective countries led to the eruption of large-scale protest demonstrations. As in the case of Thailand, the ruling classes are giving radical slogans like ‘peoples’ revolution’. Slogans apart, in reality they are trying to ensure that these demonstrations do not pose a threat to their class hegemony. They are trying to utilise this discontent to further their petty political interests and remain within their control. The people will soon see through these designs and strengthen those forces that really care for them and provide them a real alternative to the capitalist system, a system that is the genesis to these entire economic and political crisis, as we are witnessing today in Thailand.