News / Asia

Thailand Weary, Divided After Military Crackdown On Red Shirt Protesters

Brian Padden

Bangkok is now recovering from 10 weeks of anti-government demonstrations that shut down much of the city. The Thai army removed the protesters by force Wednesday, in a military operation that left at least seven people dead and 88 wounded. While the government arrested most of the protest leaders, the divisions in Thai society that help create the protest movement remain.

An estimated 5,000 protesters, known as the "Red Shirts," occupied a three square kilometer area of Bangkok's business district for two months. Their leaders said they were a non-violent democracy movement representing poor and rural people.

But Naruemon Chabchumpon, Political Science Director at Chulalongkorn University, says the Red Shirts organization damaged its public image by its actions. For example, the leaders escalated their original demands for new elections to include arresting some Thai government officials, she said.

"Their demand is asking for early election and then the government proposed like a November election and they accept in the beginning, and at the end they are changing their demand every day," said Chabchumpon. "At that time I think the public in Bangkok feel that, start to wonder, what is their real demand."

When the military finally moved in to disperse the protesters they encountered armed resistance. Protesters shot at advancing soldiers and set buildings ablaze. The violence and destruction further alienated many in the city. Now, the camp is being dismantled and the area swept clean.

But Thai society remains divided. 

Chabchumpon says to prevent unrest from reoccurring, the government needs to hold new elections and direct more economic assistance to the rural areas.

"In terms of the economic policy I think Thailand might have to start thinking about welfare state, to put more welfare to the rural areas because right now the rural people might feel that most of the budget go so much for urbanization," Chabchumpon said.

She adds, without political reconciliation, life in Thailand will never really return to normal.

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