Buddhist monks led prayers as tens of thousands gathered yesteray in Bangkok to mark the second anniversary of deadly clashes between soldiers and Red Shirt protesters.
The scene yesterday was a sharp contrast with two years earlier, when Thailand was at war with itself and troops moved in to crush a nine-week anti-government protest that left more than 90 people dead and 2,000 injured. It was the country’s worst political violence in decades.
Many speakers addressed the crowd yesterday to demand justice. No charges have been filed or prosecutions started for any of the killings. A group of 100 orange-robed monks led a solemn prayer for the dead.
However, the mood was also festive. Music blared as people sang and danced in the streets of central Bangkok, with several main boulevards closed to traffic to accommodate the sprawling rally.
“Coming here today, I feel free and lighthearted. I don’t have to fear for my life like two years ago,” said Kalong Srisang, a 52-year-old factory worker from the outskirts of Bangkok. “Back then we wanted democracy for the people. Now we’ve got it. We just have to make sure it’s here to stay.”
The 2010 conflict was largely between the poor and rural masses, many of whom backed exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and supporters of Thailand’s traditional power holders in the royal palace and the military.
Part of the reason for the current peace is that Thaksin’s supporters have been appeased by the new prime minister, his sister Yingluck Shinawatra. She won her campaign last year by a landslide, ending the premiership of Abhisit Vejjajiva, a staunch Thaksin opponent who ordered the May 19, 2010, crackdown on protesters who were demanding his immediate resignation.
Much of the us-versus-them vitriol has dissipated, giving way to an apparent acceptance on both sides that while neither the current government nor its predecessors are perfect, elections may be better than street violence for deciding Thailand’s future.
Still, deep divisions remain, and many wonder how long the peace will last.
“It’s stability on the surface. The conflicts are still there,” said Michael Nelson, a Thai studies lecturer at Walailak University in southern Thailand.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has criticized both Yingluck’s and Abhisit’s government for failing to prosecute anyone for the scores of deaths and injuries that occurred during the political violence.
“This gives the green light for ... people in uniform to do this again next time,” the group’s Asia director Brad Adams said.