On March 11, a new round of political disturbances broke out in Thailand. The red shirts demanded the government dissolve parliament and hold a general election within weeks. The two sides are trapped in a standoff: the red shirts will not back down and the government will not give in to their demands. The political turmoil dates back to the 2006 coup d'état that overthrew the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, who had won the support of Thailand's middle and lower classes by implementing bottom-up democracy. The coup d'état reflected the contradiction between Thaksin and a Thai upper class enmeshed in elite politics and vested interests.
The coup d'état did not solve Thailand's political problems. The Thais had learned how to defend their right to a voice in national politics under Thaksin. Pro-Thaksin figures won the subsequent elections after the military government collapsed because they enjoyed majority support.
There can be no winners in Thailand color politics. Yellow and red shirts represent two opposed interest groups, neither of which are willing to accept defeat. Yellow shirts launched mass demonstrations to overthrow the pro-Thaksin administrations of Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat, blocking the traffic in Bangkok, and seizing Bangkok airport. Now the same methods are being used by the red shirts against the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Democracy is being abused as a tool to obtain favorable political outcomes. Demonstrators seek to overturn any government they don't like using any lawful means. The military, judiciary and other powers can do little to stop the demonstrators' irrational behavior. Democracy has become a drug that is diverting the Thais from living a normal life of affluence and dignity. They are currently struggling to no purpose to attain "real" democratic rights.
Parliament has become the red shirts' target. In 2008, Somchai Wongsawat and his ministers were barred from office for five years. Abhisit Vejjajiva became prime minister after the People's Power Party - successor to Thaksin's banned Thai Rak Thai Party - was, in turn, banned, and Abhisit's Democrat Party managed to cobble together a workable coalition in parliament. Democracy is supposed to mean majority rule, but it seems it sometimes means legitimacy if a majority cannot be obtained.
The red shirts see Abhisit's term as prime minister as a brief interlude and want an immediate general election to test the government's legitimacy. They claim to be simply standing for fair, open and transparent elections. But given that they represent the majority of population of Thailand, their real purpose is to elect a government of their own supporters.
The government will not give way easily. Abhisit is a representative of the Thai upper class and can command the support of the police, army, parliament and courts more easily than his pro-Thaksin predecessors in government. He can mobilize the state to carry out tough action against the red shirts, while alternately bargaining with the red shirts to drag out the struggle and sap their morale. If the situation becomes critical he can take even harsher measures to deter, control, contain and limit the red shirt movement.
Abhisit Vejjajiva is, at heart, a supporter of western-style democracy and would like to be prime minister of all the Thais. He has taken steps to help Thailand's rural poor by cutting taxes, and other measures, which have the support of other ASEAN members as effective ways to promote democracy. If there had been no international financial crisis, Abhisit might well have had the resources to satisfy the demands of Thailand's rural poor and calm the anger of the red shirts.
But as things stand, the situation can only get worse if no compromise is reached. The demonstrations of the red shirts are causing discontent among some Bangkok residents. If the government's yellow shirt supporters go onto the streets to confront the reds, Thailand could be in for a period of prolonged chaos that would benefit no-one.
Thailand is at a crossroads of democracy and social stability, and needs to work out how to handle its street politics correctly. In the end, some kind of compromise between the upper class and the middle and lower classes is unavoidable. Only in this way, can Thailand continue on a healthy, if fragile, path to progress.