Thailand has a reputation as one of the most stable South-east Asia countries despite it’s long history of political turmoil. The country has seen it’s share of coups as well as volatile street protests associated with almost every election. The fundamental divide is one of economic standing. The wealthier class, largely settled in the south forms a group called the ‘Yellow Shirts’. They are opposed by the ‘Red Shirts’ a group based in the north and supported primarily by the rural, poorer communities. This group supports the current regime, as well as standing for policies such as universal healthcare and welfare programs. Unfortunately the ideological lines are split geographically as well, creating some fear that these differences could ultimately lead to civil war.
The yellow shirts are the minority right now and are clearly using their ‘freedom of speech’ (protesting) to limit the democratic process. The group prevented voters in 11 out of 15 districts from casting ballots in the election. Without a full parliament, the Thai government will be in limbo for a few months until voting can be completed.
The article concludes by affirming that if the yellow shirts really value decreasing corruption and promoting democracy that they should halt their protests. Considering the countries past, I think that a choice within the yellow shirt leadership is the only way the protests could be ended. When the military has gotten involved, it has usually resulted in them taking power in a coup. And police attempts to control the demonstrations have only escalated violence. However ultimately I think the party is motivated by it’s own agenda rather than by the public interest so I don’t think there is anything to motivate them to pull back.
The current problems in Thailand however raise a larger question for democracies. When does freedom of speech begin to impinge on the democratic process rather than promote it? And when it’s determined where that line is, how can a nation ensure that it is respected?
Article: Democracy in Thailand, Interrupted