The Streets Run Red in Thailand

Article excerpt

Byline: Joshua Kurlantzick

As Thailand's protracted political crisis spirals into violence, almost everyone keeps repeating the same diagnosis: class warfare between rich Bangkok residents and the poor masses, clad in red shirts and out for blood. But that's far too pat an explanation for the turmoil that's been punctuated by grenade attacks and at least 20 deaths in recent weeks. True, the Battle of Bangkok has pitted segments of Thai society against each other, but it's not simply the poor against the rich. In fact, the red shirts have both poor and middle-class supporters. Instead there are multiple fault lines: old elites versus new; the north and northeast against Bangkok and the south; and people close to the traditional levers of political power, like the monarchy, against those who no longer trust these institutions.

To be sure, the unrest does have a class dimension. Average income in the capital is as much as 10 times that of some parts of the northeast, which is home to many of the protesters. They've been excluded from the benefits of globalization, the source of much of Bangkok's wealth. But it's alienation more than poverty that fuels the red-shirt rage. They've been denied political power: after their votes led to the election of the populist Thaksin Shinawatra, he was deposed in a 2006 coup. …