Thailand coining the definition of non-democracy by Anya Palm

16. Mar 2010

Defining democracy is, if not an impossible, then an immensely difficult task. However, defining what it is not is easy, very easy:  Amongst other things, it is NOT democracy to gather a mass rally and declare that the sitting government must dissolve within 24 hours, or else…

Nevertheless, this explicit threat is exactly what was brought to the political table in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, this week. Under a rally. For democracy.

During the weekend, about 100, 000 red-shirted supporters of Thailand’s former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, gathered in the streets of Bangkok to demand the dissolvement of the House. Sunday the redshirts gave the government, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the mentioned ultimatum: Resign or we will take over the city and create havoc, till you do. 

Monday the prime minister declined and today Bangkok is swarmed with protesters, whose sole goal it is to get the situation in the city so much out of control, that the PM has no choice but to change his mind.

Quite a dangerous approach which can escalate into ugliness fast. And not a very democratic approach either.

That said, however, there is some reason to the red demand:  

Since Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled over in a coup d’etat in September 2006, there have been no less than four different changes of government. Only one has been elected in democratic fashion: Red-shirt-affiliated party PDD, which was democratically elected in 2007.

The rest of them, including current Prime Minister Abhisit, have been put in power as a result of political pressure.

Now the logic is to use force this once and after that putting up an election and let the Thai people vote for themselves.

 It sounds a bit farfetched, but it is believable. Thaksin Shinawatra and the redshirts have never, ever lost an election and are not afraid of putting it to the test.

So – despite ultimatum and malplaced threats of havoc – by Monday afternoon, the protesters were still within the realm of reason.

And then they went nuts.

And explanation could be that in order to show the world that Prime Minister Abhisit is not capable of controlling his own capital, the redshirts would need for the situation to escalate drastically. In other words: The redshirts needed blood to be spilled to be taken seriously. Therefore fear of violent clashes, bombings or shootings has been indeed very real in these last tense days. But surprisingly, this was not the way, the redshirts went crazy.

They went crazy like this: They decided to collect blood from their supporters and splatter it in front of the Government house.

“The Prime Minister will have to walk on people’s blood when they enter the Government House to work,” said a rally leader, explaining the symbolic value of the decision.

But the problem is that this is not at all what this symbolizes. Collecting one thousand liters of blood from civilians is not only insane for medical reasons, for health reasons, for rodent reasons or for the ridiculously grossness of such an act.

It is insane, because blood is one of the strongest symbols of them all and it symbolizes LIFE. Spilling it on the streets is…symbolically very confusing. But if it is any foreboding of what is going to come, sadly Thai people have good reason to shy away from partaking in the democratic process, along with reds and yellows.

 Because as basic as it may sound, upon the events in Bangkok this week, there seems to be a need to throw in another omni-usable definition of what democracy is not:

Spilling blood. Symbolic, through havoc or in general: Democratic leaders should not be going around asking their followers to spill blood. They should be doing whatever is in their power to prevent it, at any cost, at any time.  


Anya Palm, free lance journalist based in Bangkok


See also Anya Palm’s articles in Information,, and in Reason