Both the protesters on the streets of Bangkok and the Thai government pleading for them to go home say they’re on the side of democracy, but that is not what their increasingly dangerous conflict is about. This is a fight about power, and who ought to have it.
The unrest that has brought the capital to the brink of catastrophe this week has laid bare a societal schism pitting the majority rural poor against an urban-based elite establishment. It is a divide that has led to upheaval several times in recent years, sometimes death, even though the man at the center of it, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has not set foot in Thailand since 2008.
Thaksin is despised by millions who consider him to be a corrupt threat to the traditional status quo, but supported by millions more who welcome the populist policies that benefit them.