Thailand Undone

Things are dicey in Thailand, what with a large group of protesters trying to oust the government and key unions now siding with them. Few outsiders know quite what to make of the political alignments involved except that they’re complicated. The International Herald Tribune has the clearest take, though I wouldn’t assume the most accurate one:

According to [University of Washington expert Charles] Keyes and other scholars, the movement in Thailand is not a broadly popular uprising like those in the Philippines that ousted governments, but rather the product of a relatively small alliance uniting several agendas. It pits a modern middle class allied with supporters of the monarchy against a business and financial elite that is championing the nation’s rural and unskilled poor.

The unionists now joining the anti-government movement are part of the contemporary middle class benefiting from Thailand’s modern economy.

The protests are also a battleground between the mostly rural poor and the middle-class establishment. The divide has deepened since Thaksin courted a poor constituency as a foundation of power.

It is taken for granted here that the pro-Thaksin government would win a new election because it has the support of the rural and urban poor, a clear majority of the Thai electorate. This makes a democratic election less attractive for the anti-government group. Protest leaders mostly speak for the middle class, in an alliance of convenience with a royalist establishment that feels threatened by the emerging power of the poor.

Thailand is a rather important piece of the US security puzzle in Asia, so this bears watching.


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