Thailand: Battles on streets of Bangkok

Neither major party has solution for working and poor people

A temporary calm has returned to the streets of Bangkok and other cities of Thailand. On Tuesday, protest leader Prateep Ungsongtham Hata told the AFP news agency: "We held talks among the leaders since last night and have agreed that we will disperse our protesters for a while."

For a few days, pitched battles were fought on the streets of Bangkok, with the army using tanks and live ammunition against thousands of red-shirted young protesters. Buses were driven straight at police lines. Buildings, cars and tyres were set on fire. Two deaths and 100 or so serious injuries resulted. The prime minister’s car was attacked and armoured cars demobilised by angry crowds.

The aim of the ’Reds’ is to oust Abhisit Vejjajiva – the fourth prime minister of Thailand in 15 months – and bring back the multi-billionaire, Thaksin Shinawatra. (Thaksin’s government was overthrown by a military coup in 2006).

On 11 April, apparently unhindered, his supporters invaded and occupied the Royal Cliff Beach Hotel in Pattaya, forcing 16 Asian heads of state holding a summit there to leave from the roof by helicopter. A state of emergency was declared and blue-shirted paramilitaries deployed. Protesters in Bangkok, stormed the Interior Ministry and occupied the area around the government buildings in the centre of the capital. Their party is known as the ’United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship’.

Only towards the end of last year it was the yellow-clad supporters of Abhisit who had laid siege to Government House for two months and then invaded and occupied two airports until the government sympathetic to Thaksin was ruled illegal. That time there had been little or no interference from the army whose leaders sided with the ’yellows’. On December 12th , Abhisit’s party – the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) – had ’won over’ enough pro-Thaksin parliamentarians to form a government (Some say it was money, others that it was threats from the military behind the scenes.)

PAD – based predominantly on the urban middle and some sections of the working class – stood for more and not less involvement of the monarchy and the army in government, with 70% of representatives unelected. Thaksin’s support comes mainly from the vast number of poor farmers in the countryside who benefitted from his populist measures. At the same time, he carried out neo-liberal policies to appease the investors and the business class, which angered workers in the urban areas.

50,000 rallied at the time of the government crisis last year but their leader is still absent in Dubai, having been sentenced to serve two years in jail on ’conflict of interest’ charges. Not surprising then is the latest call to his supporters of 12 April: “Now that they have tanks on the streets, it is time for the people to come out in revolution!” After its victory he aims to make a triumphal return.

If the plight of the poverty-stricken people of Thailand was not so tragic, and some of their number had not now lost their lives, the events of the last few days would appear comical. In fact, in the context of Thailand’s economy being one of the worst hit by the global capitalist crisis, it is a tragedy that neither of the major parties has a programme of measures to pull them out of dire poverty and constant anguish. This is what lies behind the anger and hatred displayed on the streets by predominantly young people, but no party exists to channel it against the ruling elite and against the populist billionaire alike.

The cancelled summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) plus China, Japan, South Korea, India and New Zealand was due to seek remedies to the region’s battered economies. On a capitalist basis, they would have had no solutions.

What is happening in Thailand, a country that has seen a total of 18 military coups since the 1930s, is an indication of the political turmoil and instability that can be repeated on an even greater scale in other countries in Asia (and elsewhere) as they are hit by the present crisis. It brings home the grave urgency of building mass parties of workers and poor people and of fighting for a socialist transformation of society, in Asia and internationally.

For more background see article by Ravie Chandran of 16 December, 2008.

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April 2009