Thailand election traces red shirt, yellow shirt fault line
Sunday's by-election in Thailand offer a window on the continuing divide, and hints at the enduring strength of the red shirt opposition.
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In June, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva appointed a fact-finding commission to look into the protests as part of a broader program that includes long-term socio-economic reforms. Critics accuse him of trying to cover up the violence meted out by security forces and demonizing the red shirts as terrorists bent on treason.Skip to next paragraph
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Among those accused of terrorism, a capital offense, is Mr. Korkaew, a bespectacled businessman turned red-shirt agitator. In a prison visitors’ room interview before Sunday's vote, he urged his supporters to send a message to the government to end injustice and restore democracy. He denied any involvement in the violence and said he had been unfairly treated.
“I’m a businessman, an engineer. I’m not a terrorist,” he says.
The Democrat Party heads a six-party coalition formed after the court-ordered dissolution of a popular pro-Thaksin party in 2008. That party reformed as Pua Thai and draws on the same rural and working-class base as the red shirts. It remains the largest party in parliament and is seen as a formidable opponent to Mr. Abhisit, whose term ends in December 2011.
Michael Montesano, a visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says the fact that Pua Thai put up a strong fight in Bangkok despite the emergency law shows the difficult road ahead if and when Abhisit goes to the polls. And holding a general election under such constraints is likely to be seen by Thais as undemocratic, he argues.
“They can’t take this as a blueprint for how they’re going to proceed if they want to build some stable political order,” he says.
The by-election took place in a large, socially mixed constituency of new subdivisions, low-income housing and big-box stores. In 2007, it elected three lawmakers, of which two belonged to the Democrats. Unlike in that contest, minor parties in the ruling coalition stayed out in deference to the incumbent party, making it a two-way fight.
After casting her ballot, SupapornChuangchot, a high-school teacher, said she was a loyal red shirt, though she rarely attended rallies. She described herself as middle class, with an above-average salary, her own house and regular foreign vacations. She praised Thaksin as an effective national leader and said many educated people shared her views.
“This election is about justice,” she says. “ I can accept [Panich] as MP, but I’m still supporting the red shirts.”
Outside another polling station, more voters appeared to favor the Democrats and expressed optimism that Abhisit could unite the country. A young, curly-haired architect said the government needed longer to complete its work before the parliament could be dissolved. He said he opposed the red-shirt rallies but that it was wrong to tar all protesters as violent.
But he admitted that he was still in the dark about the recent violence, amid competing claims and counterclaims. “It’s difficult to say what is true,” he says.
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