Late last year, the TV news beamed dramatic images of thousands of yellow-cladprotestors from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) bringing Bangkok’s airports to a standstill. The story centred on 250,000 stranded travellers and a tourist industry in chaos. Analysis of what was happening and why was slim pickings.
Democracy sidelined. Far from being a mass struggle for democracy, an ongoing brawl among various factions within Thailand’s ruling class continues to be played out. The issue? Opposition to free trade and opening the country to increased foreign investment.
PAD is led by media magnate and multi-millionaire, Sondhi Lithongkul, and supported by Bangkok’s well-to-do. In September 2006, PAD backed the military coup against the populist government of Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin was contradictory. On the one hand, he delivered health and other programs to the rural poor, his electoral base. On the other hand, he launched a war on drugs, executed thousands without trial and opened the economy to free trade. In 2004, a mass movement mobilised 200,000 workers against Thaksin’s push to privatise energy. Enter PAD. Formed by Thaksin’s ruling class competitors, PAD set out to direct anger into safe channels. Due to the weakness of the Thai Left, it succeeded.
Different faces, same system. So, Thailand has a new government — again! On December 2, on the pretext of restoring stability, the Constitutional Court dissolved the People’s Power Party (PPP) and banned its officials from holding office for five years — in effect, sacking the government. The PPP — formed to replace Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party that was dissolved by an earlier judicial decision — defeated another ruling class competitor, the Democrat Party, in a December 2007 election. Government supporters branded the recent court ruling a “judicial coup.” Behind the scenes, opponents commenced manoeuvres — including blatant vote buying — to put together the new government headed by Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.
From the front lines of the airport occupations, PAD — backed by the monarchy, the military, the courts and the state bureaucracy — called for fresh elections. But, having achieved its immediate goal to oust the PPP, it now wants anything but! Chronic instability is sure to remain a feature of Thai politics until workers and the rural poor form a party in their own interests.