The coalition put together by Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai party prior to its electoral landslide in 2001 was one of the widest and most diverse ever seen in Thai politics. It included many of the elements of Thai society that had until then largely been excluded from power or representation in government. Hence, the rural poor and the trades unions found themselves shoulder to shoulder with the ethnic Chinese business class and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Notwithstanding the enormous electoral success achieved and the prosperous economy, it was inevitable that some of the contradictions within the coalition would lead to conflict. Hence, the pro-globalisation sections clashed with the labour leaders concerned with protecting local jobs and with privatization; meanwhile, the many interests represented by the NGOs could not always be met since they were often contradictory and, perhaps more importantly, could not be fixed within the short timescale focus of Thai politics. Consequently, some sections fell away from the initial coalition (it is not surprising but it is disappointing that it is representatives of some of the sections that fell away that became prominent leaders in the violent anti-democracy PAD movement).
That movement paved the way for the military intervention in 2006, the various court decisions that followed and the ushering in of the right wing collaborationist Democrat government. Now, the red-shirted pro-democracy protestors who are widely but wrongly described in the media as pro-Thaksin supporters, are surrounding Government House. The red shirts represent a variety of different groups, just like the original coalition did and many sections are antithetical to each other. Apparently, on Saturday, a group of protestors in Chiang Mai prevented a pro-gay parade taking place (although the presence of military agent provocateurs cannot be eliminated), even using violence according to some reports. This is not just a bad thing in itself but is counter-productive in bringing about the aims of the pro-democracy movement and also provides a pretext for military services to act against them (assuming, of course, that they are not already doing so). It also enables the media to make easy moral equivalence statements about the red shirts and the repellent PAD movement. Further, there is even some chance of PAD leaders being arrested for their (alleged) crimes – and that might include the current Foreign Minister, who was a prominent supporter of the illegal seizure of the two international airports last December. This process might be imperiled as a result.
Let us hope that violence is avoided tonight and in the future demonstrations.