Opinion: We don’t condone the violence but we understand it

Thailand’s conservative social media is abuzz with contrived shock and faux outrage over the violence occurring almost weekly between pro-democracy protesters and the country’s security forces.

In the last 3 protests, rubber bullets, water cannons, and batons have become the norm as police quickly break up protests before they can get underway.

Scenes that shocked us less than 12 months ago have now become commonplace as protests let out their frustrations on the streets of Bangkok, with running battles between young Thais and heavily armoured police shared widely across social media.

There are many reasons that increasing the levels of violence will hinder the pro-democratic movement. In the game of escalating violence, the side with more guns will usually win. It will also diminish the support or at least the willingness to join any future protest by other supporters of the movement. (Read more here)

And while the rush to violence is regrettable, and it has been condemned on these pages before, the situation has changed to a point where we can begin to understand why violence is occurring on the part of the protesters.

To many demonstrators who have been protesting against this government for the past 18 months, the situation grows bleaker by the day.

Attempts by the opposition to amend the constitution have been stonewalled by the military and by the symbiotic feeder parties attached to the current government. This all but ensures that the next election will be contested on an uneven playing field with the military-backed senate (all 250 of them) once again allowed to vote for the prime minister.

Attempts to pressure the government to resign, given their increasingly horrible track record on Covid-19, have also failed with the prime minister and his team ignoring all criticisms. The Teflon coating of the cabinet ministers has been rather impressive. Despite a mounting death toll, public infighting between ministries, and a lethargic vaccination campaign, the government has ignored any advice and criticism and has forged its head much to the detriment of the country.

Meanwhile, the economic situation grows more dire by the day. Many Thais now rely on food handouts and charity to get by on a day-to-day basis. Businesses have shuttered, many permanently, in the food and tourism industry. Hotels stand empty. Livelihoods were destroyed and life savings were lost because of continued government incompetence.

So with the situation as hopeless as it is, the violence which is continuously erupting on the streets is becoming more and more understandable.

While the conservatives on social media mock and express their shock at the images we are beginning to see every day, their lack of understanding or empathy is not universal.

Many Thais now understand the frustration and anger that the youths of today feel. A stifling lockdown, a growing pandemic, and an unstable economy have contributed to the tinderbox that Thailand has now become.

Unless there is meaningful change soon, this will all go up in smoke.

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