Chaos In Thailand Increases After Elections

Although the elections were held without much violence, the political crisis which has crippled the nation is unlikely to settle any disagreements. In fact, the protests which prevented many in the nation from casting their votes have increased after the polls closed, signaling a long road ahead for the country.

The Phuket News provides a useful Q&A on the current situation.

Peter Mellgard and Walter Russell Mead frame Thailand’s current crisis as a conflict between the yellow shirts who represent the “middle class and royalist establishment, against the red shirts, the mostly poor farmers and rural supporters of the current prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and her brother Thaksin, who lives in exile after a military coup overthrew his government in 2006. The red shirts favor democracy, because they always win by landslides. The yellow shirts favor the military and the monarchy, because these institutions provide a buffer between educated urban Thais and the masses of rural Shinawatra supporters whom they dislike and consider poor and uneducated.”

Both sides profess to represent the interests of the monarchy and King Bhumibol, who is 86 years old and has been on the throne for more than 60 years. It is the supporters of the former deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, who are protesting the current elections that were called after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament in December. It is generous to call them elections as so few voted.

As a December 2013 editorial in Ireland’s Independent newspaper noted the crisis was been brewing for some time and will not be resolved overnight.

“The violent anti-government demonstrations shaking Bangkok are a symptom of a deeper malaise. Something has gone radically wrong in Thailand in recent years. The country has become extraordinarily polarised, rich against poor and town against countryside. If this confrontation continues, Thailand, and its monarchy, could end up going the same way as Nepal. There, the obstinacy of the royal court and its conservative supporters united the majority of the population behind Communist insurgents who, in the end, took over the country. Thailand is not at this point, but the fact that such a scenario no longer sounds as outlandish as it would have done a few years ago is testament to the degree to which matters have deteriorated,” write the editors.

“In nine Thailand provinces, no one voted at all. In Bangkok, local authorities estimated turnout of barely 25 per cent. Nearly 13-million voters — out of 44-million eligible — couldn’t access polls,” reports Canada’s Globe and Mail.

Elliott Brennan offers other sobering statistics: “In 28 of the country’s 375 constituencies, candidates were unable to register after being blocked by protesters. Further elections will be held in those constituencies at a later date, but that could take months. This has been compounded by the fact that on January 26, some 440,000 of the 2.16 million people who had registered for early voting were prevented from doing so by protesters. The EC have promised that those blocked on this day will be able to cast their vote on February 23.”

With continuing chaos and protests, Brennan says it is time for the two sides to negotiate to prevent a slide into a civil war.

“Whatever transpires, the elections will not be, at least in the short-term, the panacea that many would have hoped for. The polarization will continue, and indeed, could grow worse. More violence, a coup, or even civil war, cannot be dismissed. Both parties must step back from the precipice and negotiate – this will only become harder as time goes on.”

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