- Thailand’s Emergency StateStruggles and Transformations
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Thailand’s political landscape in 2010 was dominated by the ravine-like political division over the rules that define the acceptable exercise of power. Just as yellow-shirted protestors of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) had staged a four- month “civic uprising” in 2008 against what they claimed was an illegitimate proxy government of the self-exiled Thaksin Shinawatra, so in 2010 red-shirt protestors from the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship — Red All Over the Land (UDD)1 — rebelled against a government they claimed was a puppet of the bureau-aristocratic establishment, what they called the amaat. They occupied major intersections in Bangkok from mid-March to 19 May and called for the army to abandon the government. In 2010, a river of blood ran through the political division. Fatal clashes between red shirts and the Royal Thai Military left over ninety people dead and thousands injured. Previous episodes of mass protest and repression — such as those in 1973, 1976, and 1992 — have come to define new political eras. It remains uncertain as to whether the same may be said of the April-May killings, or if those events are part of a series, as yet unfinished, of increasingly unpredictable political struggle.
The clashes highlighted the deadly trajectory of a contradictory politics that has emerged since the 2006 coup d’état that deposed Thaksin Shinawatra from office.2 These politics are characterized by antagonistic and hybrid political forces that, in practice, undermine their declared democratic objectives. Since the early 2000s, Thailand’s protracted battles over desirable regime form has seen incumbents use state apparatuses in instrumental fashion against political rivals, robbing Thailand of the stability of a loyal opposition that trusts ruling governments to govern within agreed boundaries.3 Each successive phase sees this approach [End Page 287] intensifying as the stakes get higher, space for compromise narrows, positions become irreconcilable, and a combination of intrigue and street politics determines fates of governments and oppositions. For the moment though, predictions of civil war have been proven wrong.4
This chapter traces the struggle as it unfolded during 2010. It also touches on humdrum issues of corruption, party politics, and the economy, relating the significance of these developments to the broader politics of regime battles. But first, some comments on the major actors that shaped politics in 2010.
By the end of 2010 the coalition government headed by the Democrat Party’s (DP) Abhisit Vejjajiva had been in office for two years. This was made possible by a December 2008 Constitutional Court ruling to dissolve the pro-Thaksin People’s Power Party (PPP), then the governing party of a coalition government. Military machinations, deals, and existing party and factional rivalries led to minor parties and some former PPP MPs switching allegiance, allowing the formation of a DP-led coalition government.5 As much a party of order as of elite liberal ideas of freedom, the DP claims to want to return Thailand to its liberal-democratic trajectory of the 1990s — once it has dealt with unrest. Yet the DP depends on the parliamentary weight of old-style money politicians in its own ranks and that of its coalition partners to stay in power, inviting upon it the PAD’s excoriating censure for prodigious levels of corruption. Moreover, the DP pragmatically pacts with a resurgent military that demands and receives extra-budgetary doses, and the statist-conservative political establishment surrounding the palace. Together, these forces view the red-shirt movement with alarm and fear. They recoil at the possibility of a Thaksin-influenced palace on the passing of ailing King Bhumiphol.6
The red shirts’ actions and dissident discourses have tied popular aspirations for economic well-being, political equality, and representation to the fate of an authoritarian leader (Thaksin). Less a social movement and more a political conglomeration, the UDD is also informally tied to the opposition party Pheu Thai (PT). That nexus entails the mutual mobilization of support bases in the provinces. There is also significant overlap of local politicians and vote canvassers and local UDD...