Hundreds of thousands of Red Shirt demonstrators took to the streets of Thailand over the last few weeks, demanding democracy. The Red Shirts have been holding peaceful protests in Bangkok since mid-March, demanding that the government calls new elections. This show of force proved the strength of the movement. It dispelled the lies of the royalist government and the media, who claim that the Red Shirts are not representative of the majority of the population.
The police and the army have attacked the movement. There were battles between protesters and the state in the capital Bangkok last weekend. At least 17 demonstrators and four police officers were killed in clashes.
An army coup overthrew the government of millionaire and populist politician Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. Due to a vacuum on the left, he had managed to inspire millions of ordinary Thais. The Red Shirts like Thaksin—but they are not just being used by him or fighting only for his return. They want real democracy and social justice.
The mass democracy movement is starting to question the entire elite structure, including the monarchy. Jatuporn Prompan, a protest leader, said, “There is no more negotiation. Red Shirts will never negotiate with murderers. Although the road is rough and full of obstacles, it’s our duty to honour the dead by bringing democracy to this country.”
The vast majority of Red Shirts are poor people and their leaders are at last talking openly about a “class struggle” between the people and the elites. This is the most profound political crisis and unrest since the 2006 coup. Many commentators try to explain the conflict as an elite dispute between Thaksin and the conservatives. But the missing element in most analysis is the actions of millions of ordinary people.
The military-backed Democratic Party government of Abhisit Vejjajiva has declared a state of emergency and issued arrest warrants for Red Shirt leaders. It has attempted to close down internet and satellite media or websites that don’t follow the government line. How the movement, and the Thai ruling class, respond to the dynamic situation will shape the country’s future.