Why they still long for Thaksin - Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 15, 2009
Thailand's leaders can refuse to understand and address the issues dividing the country into "red shirts" and "yellow shirts" at their peril, analysts say.
Much like the Philippines, power in Thailand rests with traditional elite in control of institutions and processes that are seen to protect its interests over those of the mass of the population that is poor and has limited or no access to political power.
Whether he did it through manipulation and lies, as the new government says, the exiled ex-Premier Thaksin Shinawatra was able to temporarily change that equation so that even in exile he continues to remind his rural supporters of the benefits that he had brought to them, and the sense he gave them that they had power and could change things.
Ironically, Thaksin, whose government was said to be "the most corrupt and most abusive ever," has become a symbol of democracy.
"Thaksin may never be able to come back. I don't think he has any kind of political future in Thailand. But it's now a question of what he represents," said Kevin Hewison, director of the Carolina Asia Center, Department of Asian Studies, at the University of North Carolina in the United States.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was appointed by Parliament after a military-appointed Constitutional Court in essence removed two governments headed by a Thaksin proxy party that their followers believe won clear election victories.
The red shirts are frustrated that the representatives they have elected have been overthrown repeatedly by court decisions perceived to be unfair and undemocratic.
"If this keeps happening, if their votes keep getting voided, so that they feel they cannot win, then there will be violence," said Hewison.
That is, unless the Abhisit government is able to hold elections in which the people that the red shirts vote for lose, but the elections are seen to be fair.
Otherwise, the frustration will just build up and there will be recourse to uprisings that could become violent.
Hewison explained how throughout the history of democracy, "the people who run things, the big money people" trade off some of their power with the lower echelons of society as a way of containing uprisings. Or they do something to make people think that they are sharing power even if they actually aren't.
However, he doesn't think the elite in Thailand, and for that matter the Philippines, has really come to a compromise on how to share power with the masses. They prefer control rather than compromise, he said.
"They [the Thais] must work out a compromise with the disenfranchised who really must have a say. Unless they can come to a compromise that allows for that, I think they?re in trouble. But the problem is, does the elite really want that?" he said.
That's why people in Thailand feel some disquiet that Thaksin and his followers could again sow disorder in the streets, or worse. Leah Makabenta