THE LATEST political crisis in Thailand is a particularly tragic instance of political blowback. Three times in the past four years, Thais opposed to the populist movement of Thaksin Shinawatra precipitated the downfall of democratically elected governments by creating chaos in the streets of Bangkok. Now the current government, backed by that same alliance of the middle class, business and traditional elites, has itself been cornered by the same tactics.
Last Saturday, the Thai army, which refused to act against the anti-Thaksin “yellow shirts” even when they shut down Bangkok’s international airport, tried to disperse the pro-Thaksin “red shirts” from their month-old street camps. The result was the worst political violence in two decades, with 23 protesters and soldiers killed — and a retreat by the security forces. That leaves the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva with few options other than what he and his coalition should have embraced in the first place: free elections.