In a democratic society, when there is a deep crisis, it is customary for the government to dissolve parliament and call elections in order for the people to decide. This happened in Britain and France after mass strikes and demonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s.
After mass right-wing “Yellow Shirt” protests against the government in Bangkok in 2006, Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) government dissolved parliament and called elections.
Yet the now-ruling Democrat Party (PAD) government and others refused to take part in these elections because they knew they would lose. Instead, a military coup was organised.
The military wrote its own undemocratic constitution that replaced a number of elected Senate positions with military appointees. Fresh elections were then held under the control of the military, yet the TRT won an overall majority again.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government is only in power as a result of two judiciary coups, Yellow Shirt violence, and the actions of the army.
It has never been elected.
So why is the government and its elite friends refusing to dissolve parliament and call immediate elections? They brush aside this simple demand by the mass movement of the “Red Shirts”.
Instead they bring armed soldiers and tanks on to the streets to break up unarmed pro-democracy protests. At least 27 people have died this year.
This is what the Thai crisis is all about. It is about democracy versus dictatorship. It is also about equality.
The justification for refusing new elections is the same as the justification for the 2006 coup. The elites claim the majority of ordinary Thai people are too poorly educated and too stupid to be allowed a free vote.
They claim the poor have been “bought” by Thaksin.
It is the same old story throughout the history of democratic struggles in the world. The poor are always insulted in this way. Only the privileged and middle classes are deemed mature enough to vote.
The government and the military have now announced that the entire Red Shirt leadership is “republican” and therefore it is “OK” to shoot everyone.
Unfortunately, the Red Shirts’ leaders are not republican. The government is telling a huge lie about the Red Shirts so they can be killed “with legitimacy”. This is what Abhisit means by “democracy”.
In Thailand, it is now a capital offence to express political views that differ from the royalist elites. This means that no one can tell if most Thais still support the monarchy or not. The chances are that millions of ordinary people now hate the monarchy because of what has been done in its name.
The tyrants can only react with violence, lies and censorship. That is a sign of desperation.
Abhisit’s military-backed government has rejected negotiations, including the olive branch offered to the government by the Red Shirts on April 23.
After meeting with various foreign ambassadors at the protest site, Red Shirt leaders offered a compromise demand: dissolve parliament in one month and hold elections two months after that.
But Abhisit’s military government has turned its back on a peaceful solution. Abhisit and the army already have blood on their hands from the shooting of 21 civilians on April 10.
The Red Shirts are strengthening their defences, calling in the Red Shirt motorcycle riders to defend the barricades built on the streets, urging people to join the protests (but not in red shirts so as not to be stopped by the military).
Mobile motorcycle troops carrying lethal weapons are driving around Bangkok intimidating people wearing red shirts on the streets. Some 30,000 troops are massing to use lethal force against civilian pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok.
In Khon Kaen, Red Shirts have stopped vanloads of police and taken their weapons. Police seem to have cooperated.
Red motorcycle “cavalry” are setting up roadblocks on an outer ring road around Bangkok to stop troops.
In Sakon Nakorn, in the north-east, Red Shirts have blocked a paramilitary border patrol. Red Shirt motorcycle “cavalry” have surrounded troops with weapons at Rungsit mint, just north of Bangkok.
Thousands of Red Shirts in Udon, in the north-east, seized a police station and all the arms!
They are fighting for democracy!
The king is silent and waiting, as ever, to see which side wins. The queen and crown prince have shown support for the army.
Yet many NGOs and “peace” groups continue to support the government and blame “both sides” for any violence. The NGOs therefore believe that the people don’t have a right to demand democracy and that the government has a right to mobilise troops against them.
So why are some people claiming that both sides in Thailand must “avoid violence” and “take responsibility”?
Which side has the guns and tanks? Which side is refusing democratic elections?
Would they have said this about the people’s power movement in the Philippines that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship in 1986? Do they accuse Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the Buddhist monks of being equally responsible with the military regime for the violence in Burma?
Were the students in Tiananmen Square “responsible” for their own deaths when the Chinese military cracked down in 1989?
Thailand will never be the same. What will happen, no one knows. But this is a revolutionary situation with a potential for freedom, democracy, social justice ... or barbarism.
[Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a Thai socialist currently in exile in Britain. He is a member of Left Turn Thailand and maintains a blog, with regular updates and analysis of the situation.]