When a ‘popular uprising’ occurs it’s too easy to assume that it is a movement for democracy (and all the interpretations that go with that word). There was a time when you could note the colour of the flags being waved and the slogans shouted through megaphones, these furnished you with a basic understanding of their political positions. Thailand’s crisis is a good example of where this method fails; there’s no clear guarantee that the red-shirts are really ‘red’, or what kind of democracy the self-proclaimed democrats actually advocate.
What is clearer is that the separation along party lines has its real roots in a rough sort of class division. When you hear the proclamations from the PAD (People’s Alliance For Democracy) condemning the spread of consumer culture in Thailand, it’s easy to think of them as left-leaning, but the PAD is composed of followers, drawn from the business elite, upper- and middle-classes, who are mainly royalists. They broadly oppose representative democracy, and instead support a system of increased royal control and a partially-appointed government; they claim Thailand can’t manage representative democracy. On the other side, those coming out in support of the PPP (People’s Power Party), a party that has already been marred by one deposed, millionaire prime minister found guilty of corruption, are overwhelmingly a rural poor with less official education. Their support of the PPP is entirely based on the fact that it offered them something else after years of being left to poverty by decades of previous government. There is also a visible cultural division between rural people and the city urbanites to the point where one condemns the other for being either an uneducated yokel or a part of the educated elite.
The rural red-shirts accuse the PAD of being upper-class elitist royalists, trying to consolidate their own position through force. People in the Thaksin camp include Chaturon Chaiseng, a left-wing activist who took up arms against the military during the 1970s communist insurgency, and it is these kinds of links that give the, as yet, ruling PPP their grass-roots support. Of course it has to be considered whether the rural farmers really have failed to appreciate the wider picture of Thaksin-style political corruption and abuse that came along with his popular social policy. Everyone still needs to keep an eye on the motives of governments, even those promising the earth.
It is a game of politics played by opportunist politicians and businessmen amongst the classic problem of an economic divide. In the face of no real substantial change it’s self-evident that a rural poor will always support social policy measures that promise to improve their lives, and anyone making those kinds of promises can quickly elevate themselves on the kind of voting power the rural areas wield. The question concerning the protest and occupation of the airport by the PAD is: what kind of democracy does the ‘People’s Alliance For Democracy’ really want?
Thailand’s future is fragile because in the face of governmental collapse there is no gurantee that either side will realise its aims if the vacuum is filled by another military coup.