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The Red Shirts have secured fresh elections. But few expect a lasting peace.
BANGKOK, Thailand — At long last, Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva and protesters sworn to end his rule are nearing a pact: he cuts his term short to deliver new elections, they abandon a rugged encampment choking off central Bangkok.
The truce could end an eight-weeks running struggle that has left 27 dead, roughly 900 injured and the economy sapped of more than $2 billion. It could also return normalcy to a city on edge.
The stability, however, may not last.
Just hours after the compromise was announced, Nattawut Saikua, a negotiator for the “Red Shirts” anti-government faction, told a crowd of followers that the prime minister’s hands remained “stained with blood.”
Clad in a crimson University of Wisconsin T-shirt, and matching upcountry loincloth, he continued his tirade. “The blood will soon stain his entire body!” he shouted. “And if he stays in Thailand? He’ll be screwed.”
This is the low point from which the government and their detractors are attempting a reconciliation.
The Red Shirts — a largely working-class movement to end Thailand’s so-called “rule of the elites” — has painted government leaders as killers and tyrants. Likewise, the government has linked the Red Shirts to terrorism, mysterious grenade attacks in Bangkok and turncoat soldiers accused of gunning down high-ranking officers.
Though the promise of fresh elections in mid-November is hoped to temper the potential for violence, new polls could provide the next flash point for more street unrest.
A rival street faction devoted to preserving the status quo — the Yellow Shirts — is unlikely to accept rule by politicians voted in by the vote-rich, rural laboring class. This group’s 2008 seizure of Bangkok’s airports previously played a role in toppling a political party favored by the Red Shirts.
If more unruly protest movements are successful in swaying politics by paralyzing Bangkok, the country is in danger of never-ending unrest, said political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
“The election campaigns ... could actually be very nasty,” he said. “It could actually exacerbate the confrontation. It could end up in the same vicious cycle: whoever wins, the losers won’t accept it.”