Social disparity leads to conflict in Thailand

11:56, May 30, 2010      

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The two-month melodrama of the anti- government protest led by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) ended abruptly on May 19, as the "red-shirts" core leaders surrendered themselves to the authorities following a day-long deadly clash between the troops and the protesters.

Disappointed protesters without leadership became rioters unfettered, setting ablaze in the following days Stock Exchange Building, Central World (the second largest shopping mall in South- East Asia), provincial halls, commercial banks, a television station, a movie theatre, telephone boosts and many other buildings.

The political turmoil, already under control according to the government, has left 88 people dead and 1,885 injured, including army forces and civilians, costing country's economy around 70 billion baht (2.12 billion U.S. dollars) and dividing country into two societies.

At the first glance, the anti-government protest, in addition to calling for democracy, seems to be an uprising of the poor demanding for the return of Thaksin, their hero, who was believed to be able to eliminate poverty and salvage them from distress. But in deeper look, it is more a confrontation of the main coalition Democrat party and social elites versus Thaksin and his supporters who wished to restore Thailand to the prior-coup condition. The genuine cause of the conflict lies deeper into the Thai society.

In Thailand, a man is classified by his occupation, level of education attainment and location of residence or work. The northeastern Thailand, with 19 provinces, is where poor people mostly resided. Most of the poor people are in agrarian sector which absorbs a largest number of laborers. The economic boom in the 1980s and early 1990s has led to the improvement of infrastructure and made people in the rural areas better off, but rural people were still lagged behind those living in the metropolitans. The widening of the wealth gap lit up angers of the worst-offs.

Under Thaksin's administration, a range of populist policies were introduced to benefit the poor, such as the 30-baht (about 1 U.S. dollar) health care scheme, 1 sub-district 1 product and low- interest loan for villagers. Rural poverty was mitigated to some extent, although he is not the only one who should claim all the credit.

Rural people see him as a hero. But when he was ousted by the military in 2006 bloodless coup, the middle-class was delighted because they were fed up with allegedly wide-spread corruption, absence of check and balance of power and press restriction under his administration.

"Former Prime Minister Thaksin is good at manipulating globalization for benefit of most people in the country", said Surichai Wankaew, a political science lecturer from Chulalongkorn University.

In fact, no one person is capable of healing the wounds of the nation when economic and social inequality persists and waits to be addressed.

The secretary-general of ASEAN Surin Pitsuwan said Thursday during ASEAN-EU meeting in Spain that Thailand badly needed political reform and social restructuring and the government had to introduce reforms that will bridge the gap in the social strata and bring justice to one and all.

"It is a lesson for all developing countries, not just Thailand, to learn how to manage social inequality," said Surin. "It is not about being democratic or undemocratic, but about effectiveness of social-management agencies."

"If the government can effectively solve people problems, they will eventually forget Thaksin. But the government's failure will only intensify their desire of his return. The government is tasked with responsibility to prove it is better than Thaksin's government," said Suriyasai Katasila acting secretary general of New Politics Party.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva vowed on May 21 to continue the reconciliation plan announced earlier this month that includes addressing economic disparity and constitutional amendment in an attempt to "rebuild the house".

The conflict has cost dearly for Thailand so far, but unless social disparity is narrowed, social conflict remains a demon waiting for its right time to come back.

Source: Xinhua


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