Editor’s Note: Andrew MacGregor Marshall is an independent journalist and author focusing on Thai politics. The opinions expressed in this analysis are solely those of the author.
Bangkok lock down the latest chapter in a divisive political conflict that has convulsed Thailand
The protesters insist they are not opposed to democracy but want wide-ranging reform
They are drawn from wealthier residents of Bangkok and Thais from the south of the country
They argue poorer Thais, particularly in rural northeast, are uneducated, sell votes to highest bidder
Bangkok remains on edge after tens of thousands of anti-government protesters “shut down” the Thai capital Monday in an effort to force caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step aside and postpone elections planned for February 2.
The showdown is the latest chapter in a divisive political conflict that has convulsed the country since 2005 and shows no signs of a resolution.
Who are the protesters and what do they want?
The protesters insist they are not opposed to democracy but want wide-ranging reform to clean up Thai politics and root out corruption before elections are held. Their slogan is: “Reform before elections.” They ostentatiously festoon themselves in red, white and blue – the colors of the Thai flag – and have adopted the practice of loudly blowing whistles to drive home their message to the government: “Get out!”
The self-styled “whistle mob” is overwhelmingly drawn from two groups in society – the wealthier residents of Bangkok, the middle and upper classes, and Thais from the south of the country, who have traveled to the capital to join the protests. Their apparent leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, is a southern Thai political strongman who has long been among the most powerful powerbrokers in the Democrat Party.
The protesters have adopted much of the symbolism of recent political protests elsewhere in the world, wearing Guy Fawkes masks and calling their planned shutdown of the capital “Occupy Bangkok.” But there are significant differences from global protest movements against the “one percent” – the Thai protesters draw their support from wealthier members of society, and are staunchly elitist, ro