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March 22, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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It would be an understatement to say that things are a bit of a mess in Thailand at the moment. Demonstrators have once again taken to the streets of Bangkok to protest what they deem to be an unsatisfactory political regime. Though peaceful for now, the serious tensions and frustration towards the current government that have provoked the latest wave of protests could easily spill over into violence and bloodshed.

Unrest is not uncommon in Thailand. It was hoped that the end of military rule in 1992 would finally see democracy take root. A new constitution was adopted in 1997, but long term political stability has not ensued. Economic crises, corruption and government scandals have affected public perceptions of those elected to positions of authority.

Political tensions in Thailand in recent years have been centred around the conflict between the so-called “red shirts” and “yellow shirts”. The red shirts are the supporters of the ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and they are mainly from the rural areas of Thailand. The yellow shirts, on the other hand, are the supporters of the current democratically elected government. A firm line divides Thailand’s urban and rural populations, and until this divide can be negotiated by the country’s political elites, it is likely that the stand-off will continue.

This time around, it is the red shirts who have hauled out the placards. They are demanding that current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call new elections. The red shirts claim that under Abhisit they have been marginalised by his backers, which include the military, the urban elite and the royalists.

Thaksin himself had been ousted in a military coup in 2006, and was subsequently sentenced, in absentia, to two years in prison for graft. Tensions between the red shirts and the yellow shirts came to a head in late 2008, when both of Bangkok’s major airports were seized by the yellow shirts. The storming and occupation of the airports made international news headlines, disrupted travelers and was a factor leading to the elections in mid-December that saw Abhisit installed as Prime Minister.

Thaksin’s supporters remain dissatisfied. Tensions continue to simmer. Blood will continue to be spilled on the streets of Bangkok in the name of democracy. Whether a stable democratic system can be established in Thailand remains to be seen. Until the deep divisions in Thai society are repaired, it seems that political unrest will continue.

Though complaints may be made about New Zealand’s democratic procedures—take the outrage over the snubbing of the so-called “anti-smacking” referendum—it has to be said that we are blessed with a stable political system where we do have the opportunity to express our views on proposed legislation. We can talk to our MPs, we can make submissions to select committees, we can protest, we can vote, we can keep them honest. It is up to us to make the most of these opportunities and hold our MPs to account. There’s no point in complaining if you aren’t going to get off your arse and do something about it.

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Editor for 2010, politics nerd, panda fan and three-time award-winning student journalist.

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