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Can the blood-stained street politics alter Thailand's political skyline ?

14:47, March 17, 2010

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Li Hongmei

Hundreds of "Red Shirts", the red-shirted anti-government protesters, formed long queues Tuesday to have their blood drawn in response to the so-called "blood sacrifice" announced by the protest leaders, which is designed to be a symbolic sacrifice by splattering gallons of blood at the Thai government headquarters to press the demand for new elections. Organizers of "Red Shirts" even threatened they would probably slash blood at the residence of the sitting Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva if he turned down their demands to dissolve parliament.

Thailand, once again, has been bogged down in political chaos and massive disorder after a brief tranquil period lasting merely 11 months. And again, it is a tussle between elite politics and grassroots democracy, although the protests have to date been reportedly peaceful.

The Southeast-Asian country has been in constant political turmoil since early 2006, when the military coup ousted the former PM Thaksin Shinawatra for alleged corruption and abuse of power; and the Red Shirts, supporters of Thaksin and other activists, believed the populist ex-PM had been framed and forced to step down as a result of the connivance of the military and the traditional ruling class who were alarmed by Thaksin's tremendous popularity in the grassroots. Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 ahead of a conviction on a conflict of interest charge for which he was sentenced to two years in jail and he has ever since remained in exile.

But even today, Thaksin's image as the mouthpiece for the lower-class has been deeply embedded in the collective memory of the country's rural and poor, even when his popularity has been somewhat tarnished by the bulky seizure of his wealth by the Thai government and, his disrespect, as finger pointed by his political rivals, shown for the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, the longest reigning monarch in the world since 1946. All these accusations, perhaps still flimsy, will cripple Thaksin's political appeals and influence.

Back to the unfolded street chaos, even if the protests launched by the "Red Shirts" are going on in a peaceful way, and the exiled Thaksin also spoke to the demonstrators lately by video urging them to continue their struggle in a nonviolent fashion, the undercurrent of Thailand's political environment is still fully exposed as problematic and complicated. And the hidden structural problems also insidiously contribute to the country's unstoppable street politics.

In a sense, the life-and-death struggle between "Red Shirts" and "Yellow Shirts" (pro-government activists) will not rise or ebb as a result of Thaksin's existence. If viewed from the socioeconomic perspective, the uneven distribution of the social resources plus the unequal possession of social wealth catalyze the mass confrontation taking to street.

From the point of ‘Red Shirts", what is behind the "Yellow Shirts" is a handful of interest groups. On the flip side, "Yellow Shirts" look on "Red Shirts" as a lot with a strong thirst for power in order to thin out their wealth. The aged monarch, however, has limited strength to bridge the rift, thus the social contradictions are further exasperated.

On top of that, tourism as Thailand's pillar industry has been caught in the global economic chill, generally upsetting the social mood. And like it or not, Thailand is ushered into the era preparing for the "Post-Bhumibol" days. Different political forces at home are already seen fiercely competing with each other for the dominant positions. All this put together has redoubled the frequency of the street politics over the past years.

But, faced with the unique but increasingly complicated political environment and the dim economic reality, only shout-outs and the street performances can hardly deliver a bolt from the blue to Thailand's political skyline.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Gavin Jon MowatGavin Jon Mowat

Gavin Jon Mowat, editor and columnist for People's Daily Online.

As a graduate from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, Gavin came to Beijing 2 years ago to study Chinese.

Enjoying the culture and traditions of the orient so much, Gavin has since left his home in Scotland and is now living and working in China.

Gavin uses his background in writing to share his experiences of China with you at People's Daily Online.