Protesters have embraced a gesture from the Hunger games in the conflict in Thailand.

What’s Behind The Conflict In Thailand?

For the second time in a decade, a conflict in Thailand has led to a military coup.

You might have seen the news about the three-finger Hunger Games salute being used in the conflict in Thailand as a protest against the government – here’s what the larger conflict is about.

What’s happening in Thailand?

At 3 a.m. on May 22, the army took control over the Thai government in a bloodless coup.

Martial law has been declared across the country, top politicians have been detained, and gatherings of more than five people banned.

To oppose this coup, protesters who supported the pre-coup have organized silent flash mobs via social media.

The three-finger salute, displayed by the protagonist in the Hunger Games franchise, has come to represent the protests, with some claiming it represents the French revolutionary slogan “liberty, freedom, and fraternity.”

What led up to the coup?

The coup followed the court-ordered ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which was followed by a power vacuum.

Thailand has been in turmoil since November 2013. Citizens opposed to Shinawatra had been protesting the government over a proposed bill that would give amnesty to everyone involved in political violence and scandals over the last decade.

That would have included former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who’s currently exiled after being convicted on corruption charges. His younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was the country’s prime minister as head of the Pheu Thai Party (PTP) until the May 2014 coup.

Essentially, there are two sides to the conflict in Thailand: the populist, pro-democracy PTP, supported by so-called Red Shirt protesters, and the royalist, anti-democracy Democrats, supported by Yellow Shirt protests.

The army has not officially weighed in on either side, but it’s often seen as backing up the army, and hence, the Yellow Shirts.

Is this the first such conflict in Thailand?

Definitely not. Ever since the absolute monarchy was replaced with a British-style constitutional monarchy in 1932, the country has seen 18 different attempted or successful coups.

Most of that time was under autocratic rule, but the country has ostensibly been a democracy since 1992.

The latest coup was in 2006, however, when Thaksin Shinawatra’s democratically elected Thai Rak Thai party was overthrown and outlawed over protests against human rights abuses.

After the army relinquished control in 2007, there was a tug-of-war power struggle between PTP Shinawatra supporters (Red Shirts) and the conservative Democrat Party (Yellow Shirts).

Hundreds of people were killed in violent clashes. At least four have died in current protests.

Eventually, however, an election was held in 2011, and the pro-Shinawatra party won, establishing the government that was overthrown in May 2014.

They were accused of massive election fraud, however, and the country remained deeply divided, as the map below shows:

The red color represents Pheu Thai, while the blue represents Democrat.

The conflict in Thailand illustrates a divided country.

Image courtesy of the Bangkok Post via Wikipedia.

So what’s going to happen?

In many ways, the conflict in Thailand is a test of its commitment to democracy. If the Democrat side is victorious, the country could easily revert to autocratic rule.

But if the Shinawatras are successful, serious reforms are required so democracy isn’t eroded by corruption.

Looming over the crisis, of course, is the fact that Thailand’s regent, the ailing 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is the world’s longest-serving current head of state.

He’s likely to be succeeded soon – and his heir apparent, Vajiralongkorn, is widely disliked due to his reputation as an authoritarian and a playboy prince.

That could spell trouble for a country whose army is effectively controlled by the crown.

Ole Skaar