After a brief pause to celebrate King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday, Thailand is back to witnessing chaos on the streets. Post-Arab Spring, governments seem to be taking such street shows with a lot more seriousness than before. In Thailand, they have already forced the Pheu Thai Party government to announce new elections in February. The Opposition, led by the Democratic Party, should have been happy with what it has gained with a few days of street anarchy. Unfortunately, it is not — it wants Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister, to resign as head of the caretaker government, and perhaps, as she blurted out recently in a tearful address to the protesters, leave the country. Even if the Opposition might want to contest that claim, there is no arguing that its intention is to purge the country of the Shinawatras’ influence. That is also the reason it is refusing to contest the elections. According to Thailand’s royalist elite, who form the backbone of the Opposition, the Shinawatras have an all-pervasive influence and control over positions of power. Hence elections, which are likely to return the Shinawatras to power, are no answer to the country’s problems. They want the government to be replaced by a “people’s council” headed by a prime minister chosen by the king. The council would amend the constitution and reform laws. Elections can follow only after that.
There are two reasons why this is not as simple as it seems. For one, there is no evidence that the king might want to dirty his hand in this ungainly political contest that would require him to choose sides. In 2006, he openly expressed his support for democracy by refusing to anoint a prime minister, and has, ever since, tried to play the dignified role of a moderator. In his recent address to the nation, the king asked the people to support each other for the sake of the country and to “behave”. Two, the Opposition has repeatedly failed to provide any evidence of the elections being either unfree or unfair. It perhaps could not have in a country that is so obviously polarized between the pro-Shinawatra north and conservative south that continues to root for rule by oligarchs. Thailand can return to stability only when its politicians acknowledge that elections are an expression of popular will. No matter how inconvenient, a government formed by this democratic exercise embodies this will and is there to serve the people who elect it, and not the family or the royalty.