The anti-government protests that have paralyzed Bangkok this week are a study in contrasts: Demonstrators aligned with the country’s Democrat Party are calling for a democracy hiatus, and despite their colorful protests that have been almost completely peaceful, they are nevertheless raising real fears of political violence and bloodshed.
“As anti-government protesters intensify actions, the risk of violence across wide swathes of the country is growing and significant,” the International Crisis Group warned in a bulletin on Jan. 13. Pravit Rojanaphruk, writing for the Thai English-language newspaper The Nation, warned that there was deeply-held anger simmering beneath the surface of the jovial protests. Many protesters demonize president Yingluck Shinawatra; one was spotted brandishing a poster that showed her hanging from a tree by a noose.
No one seems to know how the protests will end. The Thai armed forces are trying to stay above the fray, but many of the protesters seem to be counting on the military to step in with yet another coup to unseat Yingluck. The president seems determined to follow through with elections planned for early February, and has little reason to step down, even as her government is forced to operate from a variety of ad hoc locations to avoid the protests.
The anti-government protesters—many of them drawn from the well-heeled ranks of the Bangkok elite—are vowing to stay in the streets (with occasional air-conditioned food and toilet breaks in Bangkok’s many luxury shopping malls) until the elected government is removed and an unelected “people’s council” is installed.