I admit, I never had thought things would get out of hand like this. Thailand is known for its political instability as this has been going on for four years, and I have called for the populists and the monarchists to form a coalition of reason before. But what we have been witnessing in the last couple of weeks is the extremists on both sides gaining the upper hand in their respective camps. It is still unclear how much this has still to do with Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former Prime minister who has long been said to pull the strings of the red shirt movement, but I am not sure he has influence on what goes on on the ground.
It looks like the time for compromises are up: The red shirt movement did not accept general elections in autumn, and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will not step down, as long as the army is behind him, as seems to be under pressure from Monarchist hardliners. The assassination of Khattiya Sawasdipol, a former general turned red shirt leader, has added fuel to the flames (the army denies involvement, but this is hard to believe).
There is a risk of riots spreading to some provinces, though reports are scarce. In my opinion, the red shirts should have agreed to elections in November. Now it seems they will not have many chances to find a solution that saves everybody’s face. Even worse, the monarchy, which has been the stabilizing factor in the country, has been discredited: King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose words had prevented civil words before, has remained silent. The 82-year-old has been sick for months. As criticizing the monarchy is still a taboo subject, people remain silent.
As of now (Monday evening), it looks like talks about a ceasefire could emerge. But the conflict will continue even if the gunfire has stopped – and all this mess could be just a foretaste of what will happen once King Bhumibol dies and his son, who is not very popular, inherits the crown.