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It's Not Just Red and Yellow

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
April 30, 2010


As Thailand's protracted political crisis spirals into violence, with at least 20 people killed in the last few weeks, the protesters, the government, and many outside observers offer a similar diagnosis of the unrest: it is a class war between wealthy Bangkokians, clad in yellow, and the poor rural masses, clad in red.

But this theory is far too simple. The red-shirt demonstrators, who demand the restoration of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have some rich backers, including Thanpuying Viraya Javakul, who has appeared on the red shirts' protest stage, and Thaksin's old adviser Pansak Vinyaratn. The forces in yellow, who support the current Democrat Party government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, include middle-class shop owners, who earn less than some red-shirt businesspeople. Instead, the violence stems from multiple cleavages in Thai society: old elites against new elites; Thais hailing from the north and northeast against Thais from Bangkok and the south; and people close to the traditional levers of political power, such as the monarchy, against those who no longer trust these institutions.

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