Political tension in Thailand is boiling over into street fights, and it has been happening repeatedly over the past several years.
At its core are the differing opinions about the country’s existing power structure. On one side is an alliance between the military and its political supporters – who on the street are known as the Yellow Shirts. They see themselves as the guardian of political continuity.
The most potent symbol of this is the king, and the Yellow Shirts guard his position with fervor. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving current head of state, is 85, and the question of succession is now lingering over the country.
On the other side are the so-called Red Shirts. Their most powerful leader has been Thaksin Shinawatra, who rose to power with particular strong support from people living in the countryside.
After being forced out as prime minister in a military coup in 2006, following allegations of corruption, his sister Yingluck took over the post upon winning the elections last year.
And a key player in all this is Kasit Piromya, an opposition member of parliament.
As an active opponent of the Thaksin government, he participated in the takeover of the Bangkok airport in 2008 in an effort to bring down the government. In the ongoing investigation of those events, he has been questioned by the police many times.
Kasit was appointed foreign minister under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who ruled from 2008 to 2011, and he remained in the cabinet when the country’s military opened fire on Red Shirt demonstrators in 2010, killing more than 80 people.
Commenting on the incident, he said “every government has the legitimacy to use force when the protesters use arms, any legitimate government would have done that.”
His most controversial moment however came when he dared to talk about the role of the monarchy – a very sensitive subject in Thailand.
Just last month, a journalist was sentenced to 11 years in prison for insulting the king. On the subject of freedom of speech and ‘lese majeste’, Kasit told Al Jazeera: “It’s not that black and white … it’s the abuses of the law, on the enforcement and the interpretation, not on the law itself.”
But when demonstrators were being killed in the streets three years ago, he said: “I think we should be brave enough to go through all of this and to talk about even the taboo subject of the institution of the monarchy.”
But he also praises the king and says that the monarchy has been “the instrument of changes for the Thai society at least for the past seven to eight hundred years”.
In this episode of Talk to Al Jazeera, Khasit Piromya discusses Thailand’s national and regional challenges and the role of the monarchy.
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