The political unrest in Thailand against a popularly elected government is a clear sign that democracy is yet to fully take root in that country. Protestors, mainly belonging to the opposition Democrat Party, have besieged Bangkok for days demanding that the government resign. They are not willing to countenance Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra or her government even in a caretaker role until a mid-term election that she has announced for February 2014 in a desperate bid to quell the protests. In a sense, this is a continuation of a crisis that preceded the 2011 election. That election was held after a series of protests in 2010 against the royalist Democrat Party government by supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, brother of the Prime Minister, who headed the government until 2006 when he was sent packing by the military. Ms. Yingluck led the Pheu Thai Party to a convincing victory in the election, winning well over half the seats in the 500-seat Parliament. The present bout of unrest began when the government tried to introduce an amnesty arrangement that would allow Mr. Thaksin, who fled the country to escape being tried on corruption charges, to return without fear of prosecution. Though the proposal was dropped, the leader of the present protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, Deputy Prime Minister in the previous Democrat Party government, has vowed to continue until power is handed over to non-elected councils. He resigned as an Opposition member of Parliament to lead the protests. Other parliamentarians of the party have since resigned to join the protests. Clearly the DP wants to avenge its electoral defeat, in a manner not in keeping with its name. Indeed, with its supporters mainly Bangkok’s elites, its chances of winning are slim, while the PTP, whose supporters are drawn mainly from rural Thailand and among the urban poor, may triumph again.
Notwithstanding the criticism that she is her brother’s proxy, Ms. Yingluck has emerged as a leader in her own right in the last two years. While her government has made its share of mistakes, in the present crisis she has appeared in better light than the protestors. Despite its stormy relationship with the PTP, the military has kept away from this new edition of Thailand’s political tug-of-war so far — even though the protestors openly sought its intervention, storming the Army headquarters demanding support. In a country where the military has carried out coups 18 times since the end of monarchical rule in 1938 and, as in Pakistan, has played a backroom role even in civilian dispensations, it cannot be ruled out as a player. If the impasse persists, it might still be called upon to play the arbiter. There will be no knowing then, where its role will end.