Fear of a violent stalemate lurks beneath Bangkok’s colorful anti-government protests

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.

Anti-government protesters cheer as they occupy a major intersection in central Bangkok January 13, 2014. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters occupied parts of central Bangkok on Monday, ratcheting up a two-month agitation to force the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and meeting no resistance.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj (THAILAND - Tags: SOCIETY CIVIL UNREST) - RTX17CG3
(Reuters/Damir Sagolj)
Anti-government protesters pose for pictures as they occupy a main road through Bangkok's upmarket shopping district January 13, 2014. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters occupied parts of central Bangkok on Monday, ratcheting up a two-month agitation to force the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and meeting no resistance.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj (THAILAND - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTX17CJG
(Reuters/Damir Sagolj)
Anti-government protesters use a noise maker as they gather outside the Siam Center shopping mall in central of Bangkok January 13, 2014. Thousands of anti-government protesters began a blockade at major intersections in Bangkok on Monday as they sought to cripple Thailand's capital, stepping up pressure on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTX17C3V
(Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom)
Anti-government protesters rest inside an upmarket shopping mall located in an area which they have occupied in central Bangkok January 13, 2014. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters occupied parts of central Bangkok on Monday, ratcheting up a two-month agitation to force the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and meeting no resistance.   REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa (THAILAND - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST BUSINESS SOCIETY WEALTH) - RTX17CIQ
(Reuters/Kerek Wongsa)
Anti-government protesters gather at Victory Monument in central of Bangkok January 13, 2014. Thousands of anti-government protesters began a blockade at major intersections in Bangkok on Monday as they sought to parlayse Thailand's capital, stepping up pressure on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha(THAILAND - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTX17BY3
(Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)
Thai anti-government protesters rake pictures during a rally outside the government complex in Bangkok, Thailand Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. Anti-gpvernment protesters took over key intersections in Thailand's capital Monday, halting much of the t4raccif into Bangkok's central nbusiness district as part of a months-long campaign to thwart e;lections and overthrow the democratically elected prime minister. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)
(AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)
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