Averting Civil War in Thailand

As an individual concerned with events in Thailand, I am not sure if a plague-on-both-your-houses stance toward the Red Shirts (who support ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra) and the Yellow Shirts (who oppose him) is enough. There is no magazine more anti-populist than The Economist. Yet this is what it says in an editorial in its most recent issue:

The origins of the bloodshed can be disputed…But the underlying causes of political deadlock are not: they lie in the persistent refusal of Thailand’s elites to accept electoral defeat at the hands of Thaksin Shinawatra, deeply flawed but nonetheless popular prime minister. He was turfed out in a coup in 2006 and went into exile. Against the odds, a party loyal to him did better than any other in an election in 2007. A year later, it was forced out of office by yellow-shirted mobs and convenient court rulings.

Mr. Abhisit can hardly be surprised that he now faces the same tactics. He is also guilty of hyporcrisy. In 2003 he called on the then prime minister to resign afte two yellow-short protesters had died. In general, the pro-Thaksin red shirts have shown greater discipline recently than the yellow shirts did then. The red shirts also have a stronger case: that the Prime Minister and his cobbled-together ruling coalition lack a popular mandate. It would be humiliating, but Mr. Abhisit should offer an early election. Better to cede power that way than in a coup or bloody insurrection.

My sense is that what we have in Thailand is clearly class warfare, with the rural and urban lower classes shedding their reputation for docility. History works in strange ways, but, whatever the reasons why, the classical left was unable to capture the support of the lower classes whereas Thaksin was able to do so. My sense is that Thaksin’s corrupt practices, while certainly to be criticized, count much less than the fact that he became, despite himself, the expression of the voice and anger of the poor–an anger that is now being expressed in the streets of Bangkok. The Red Shirts, in my view, are on right side, both in terms of their struggle against class injustice and in their claim to be the rightful claimants to political power owing to their electoral majority.

I have arrived at the conclusion that Abhisit should call for elections right away and that the losing side–which is likely the anti-Thaksin side–should respect the results of the elections. This may no longer be a sufficient condition for avoiding civil war, but it certainly is a necessary condition for it.