Gareth Price: Even if the protests can be ended peacefully, Thai society will remain polarised

Share
Related Topics

The escalation of violence in Bangkok in recent weeks gives the impression that the conflict between rural poor and urban elites is reaching an end. In some regards this is true; it is difficult to see how the current situation in Thailand's premier business district can continue for much longer. But it is much harder to see how this conflict can be reconciled in the longer term.

Outside mediation, probably by the United Nations, provides the best hope for a peaceful solution to the current stand-off. Agreeing that the demonstrators can avoid prosecution, coupled with the promise of elections, may be the starting offer from the government. Whether the government would agree to immediately resign is less certain, and the opposition demand for the prosecution of the deputy prime minister will almost certainly prove a step too far.

But even if a peaceful short-term agreement could be found, the polarisation of Thai society will remain. Fresh elections without a reframing of politics will simply highlight that schism. The king's ill-health and the unpopularity of the Crown Prince have meant that traditional deference for the monarch among the rural poor has been reduced. His power to facilitate compromise is now limited.

A military solution could also resolve the situation. This would undermine Thailand's international standing, and make the Red Shirts more hardline. There are increasing indications though that there are splits within the military. Many regular troops come from similar social backgrounds to the Red Shirts.

Thus far, the conflict has not spread outside Bangkok. But one-third of Thailand is now under emergency rule. That includes Bangkok, as well as in the South where there is an insurgency involving ethnic Malays. While protests could spread, there is a logic for the focus on Bangkok. The Red Shirts comprise those who feel excluded from the benefits of development; their enmity is focused on Bangkok, where Thailand's wealth, and the beneficiaries of its growth, is concentrated.

Countries within South-east Asia have expressed increasing concern regarding the situation in Thailand; in recent months a series of border clashes have broken out between Thailand and Cambodia. This presents a severe test for Asean, the Association of South East Asian Nations. Were Asean able to act, it would be a shot in the arm for the organisation. But few would bet on such an outcome.

The problem now is that the protests have an impetus of their own. The former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose supporters are among the demonstrators, is clearly not in charge; his pleas for calm were largely ignored by the hardline protesters. The government, and Thailand's elite, will have to make some tough choices. They will need to reassess the distribution of political and economic power in Thailand, and accept that bottling up divisions (or cracking down on protest) does not provide a long-term solution.

In the event of a massacre in Bangkok, the international community is likely to impose such a solution. The hope is that the government works this out before it is too late.

Gareth Price is the Head of the Asia Programme at Chatham House

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pack of seagulls squabble over discarded food left on the beach at St Ives on July 28, 2015  

Number of urban seagulls in Britain nearly quadruples: Hide food and avoid chicks to stay in gulls’ good books

Tom Bawden
 

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen