The bloodshed in Bangkok has begun

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Article: Dietrich Neu – Foreign Correspondent

On Saturday, a 21-year-old university student was shot twice in the ribs during the increasingly violent Bangkok protests that have swarmed government institutions and city streets. Analysts were nervous about this day for a long time. They speculated for weeks about whether the protests would culminate in violence – like they have so many times in Thailand’s past.

In addition to the shooting, two more students were killed in brawls the next day. More than 50 people were injured in brutal clashes between the anti-government yellow shirts and the pro-government red shirts. A bus carrying protesters was ambushed with paving stones, and a taxi was mauled after a mob of yellow shirt protesters saw the passenger inside was wearing a red shirt.

I’m sure there will be another cascade of violence in Thailand’s capital as this is written(Dec.3). Currently, almost one hundred buses full of red shirt supporters are on their way to Bangkok from rural Thailand to boost their numbers in the demonstrations.

Before things got violent, the protests in Thailand were an outcry against an amnesty bill that would have absolved several political figures of corruption and criminal charges – including the prime minister’s brother. The bill was preposterous, and the people knew it. Hundreds-of-thousands took to the streets. After weeks of passionate demonstrations, the government killed the bill.

The government’s attempt to slam through a horrible piece of legislation under the population’s nose was a cheeky move, and the people responded correctly. They should be proud. What happened in Bangkok was a real display of citizen power.

As Canadians we rarely wield our power with any vigor. When Stephen Harper lies to parliament, Rob Ford smokes crack, or when senators abuse their expense accounts, Canadians tend to go: “meh.”

If we possessed even an ounce of Thailand’s passion for participatory politics, the landscape of Canada would be very different than it is now.

Just an ounce though, not more. Too much passion and things get hairy.

The Thais are taking it too far. What started as a noble effort to stop a horrible bill has morphed into a grotesque bi-partisan struggle for control of the country. Yellow shirts have stormed and occupied government buildings and are calling for the government to be dissolved and the prime minister to step down. Violent clashes between protesters on both sides of the conflict are a daily occurrence. People are needlessly being maimed and killed.

Any notion of democracy was dropped weeks ago. The government has tried multiple times to negotiate with their opponents; all offers were refused. When the military stepped in and ordered the opposition leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, to negotiate with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, things didn’t go so well. Thaugsuban told Shinawatra she had two days to do what he wanted and left the meeting.

This type of behaviour might be acceptable in a situation where the government is raining down tyranny on its people, but aside from the regrettable bill the government hadn’t done anything demonstrably wrong, and they won the last election in a landslide. Yes, they have been marred by accusations of corruption, but so has every Thai government in history, and there is no reason to believe a new one wouldn’t be either. Corruption is a cultural phenomenon in Thailand, not a political one. Changing the people in power won’t change anything.

These protests are not about making things right, they’re not about instilling a better political structure (which is what some are claiming), and they’re not about ending corruption.

The protests are now just a power struggle between two groups on different points of the political spectrum. The democrats lost the election, and they want control of the country anyway. The conservative red shirts want to stop them at all costs.Number 8

The main responsibility for this violent disaster lies with the democrats. Although the yellow shirts lost the election handedly, they won Bangkok and therefore have more people in close proximity to government buildings. Images of thousands protesting at Democracy Monument and storming government buildings might make it look like the entire country is enraged, but in reality the government and the group that opposes them just live in the same neighborhood. A new government is not what the people of Thailand want, and that’s why the democrats have rejected the idea of a snap election: they would lose again.

Instead, Thaugsuban called for the yellow shirts to keep fighting – and the blood will continue to drip. People are dead, more are injured, business investors (who notoriously hate political instability) are already pulling out of the country, and many tourists are planning trips elsewhere.

If these kind of protests keep happening year after year – like they have been – Thailand is doomed to destroy everything it holds dear, and become a cautionary tale for the rest of the world.

Image: Dietrich Neu

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