BANGKOK – Is Thailand heading for civil war? The question may seem overly dramatic, but the decision of the opposition Democrat Party to boycott the Feb. 2 general election makes resolution of the struggle between the royalist Democrats and supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra nearly impossible.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed Sunday to hound Ms. Yingluck until she dies or steps down, and he ordered his supporters to block registration of candidates.
Faced with almost certain defeat at the polls, the Democrats have decided to pursue power by making the country ungovernable. Such behavior is the definition of a disloyal opposition, and the protesters use the word “insurrection” to define their movement. While they pay lip service to reforming the democratic system, at other times they demand that the monarchy install a new leader and that democracy give way to rule by the elite.
Thailand has been down this road before, most recently after a military coup in 2006 put the Democrats in power. The army forced through a new constitution designed to hobble the supporters of Ms. Yingluck’s brother, exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This effort failed and made the situation worse. Voters in the countryside only hardened their opposition to the Democrats, and Mr. Thaksin’s supporters went on winning elections.
Mr. Suthep’s main charge against Ms. Yingluck and her brother is that they worsened Thailand’s endemic corruption. There is little evidence to support this, and the Democrats are no strangers to corruption allegations. Mr. Suthep resigned from parliament in 1995 after being accused of using a land reform to funnel assets to allies, an episode that brought down the government. (Mr. Suthep denied the allegations.) Last year the National Anti-Corruption Commission accused him of interfering in the Culture Ministry while he was deputy prime minister.
So far the pro-Thaksin rural population has remained relatively quiet, but they are seething with anger. They are capable of mobilizing far bigger protests to defend their elected representatives should that become necessary. Meanwhile, the once solidly pro-royalist military seems increasingly divided. That may be why the generals have kept to the sidelines this time, but if violence does break out it increases the risk of civil war.
The Democrats’ claims to represent the will of the people, but their leaders are bent on returning to power with or without the support of a majority. With such an opposition, Thailand’s democracy will continue to suffer. – Wall Street Journal