Anti-government 'Red Shirt' protesters offer prayers near a memorial site for the 21 victims of fierce street battles between protesters and the army on the weekend, during celebrations of the Songkran festival marking the Thai new year, in Bangkok Tuesday.
Photograph by: Christophe Archambault, Getty Images, Vancouver Sun
Thailand's government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is teetering toward collapse after weeks of demonstrations by "Red Shirt" protesters came to a bloody climax at the weekend with the deaths of 21 people and wounding of hundreds in clashes with the army.
The political ground around Abhisit and his minority Democrat party government is falling away in all directions. His final fall could be into any one of the many chasms opening up around him.
He might be forced to call new elections sooner than the nine-month time frame he has offered protesters if other groups in his five-party parliamentary coalition desert him.
He could be forced to resign the premiership and Democrat Party leadership if his backers in the military and the royal court tell him it's time to go.
If there is a new flare-up in the violence between the "Red Shirts" of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and the military, it is possible the generals, who have seized power in Thailand 18 times since 1932, will again consider it their duty to save the nation from perceived chaos.
But the military appears reluctant to take that course. The head of the army, Gen. Anupong Paochinda, said on Monday, "The situation requires that the problem be solved by politics."
Abhisit and his party could also fall victim to the kind of judicial intervention that has removed his two predecessors.
Thailand's Election Commission announced on Monday it thinks the Constitutional Court should disband Abhisit's Democrat Party and ban everyone involved from political activity for five years on charges of receiving illegal donations.
About the only avenue left for Abhisit to keep the political initiative is to call an election himself. But the chances of this route saving his political career are slim.
Abhisit is but the latest victim in a string of prime ministers who have tried unsuccessfully to overcome Thailand's political turmoil that started in September 2006. That month the army, prodded by the privy council of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire tycoon accused by courtiers and royalists of corruption and authoritarian tendencies.
When subsequent elections returned to power parties supporting Thaksin, high courts conveniently outlawed the governments for electoral fraud.
After the last judicial coup 16 months ago, the British born and Eton-and-Oxford educated Abhisit came to power heading a coalition brokered by the military and courtiers.
Royalists and Abhisit supporters have attempted to portray the turmoil as a contest for power between a government dedicated to Thailand's stability and respect for its traditional hierarchy and social structures, and ill-educated mobs financed and manipulated by Thaksin from his exile hideaways in Dubai and Cambodia.
But in the past 3½ years the turmoil has gone way beyond a simple popularity contest. Some have described it as class warfare.
Undoubtedly, support for Thaksin is no longer the binding force among the "Red Shirt" followers, whose aim has become a fundamental restructuring of Thailand's political life.
Thailand has the largest gap between rich and poor of any of the 10 countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations.
What is increasingly revolutionary today is a willingness to debate the role of the monarchy and the royalist elites, a previously taboo subject.
Even Thailand's royalist foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, in a speech in Washington, D.C., on Monday said the country must talk about reform of the role of the monarchy.
Respect for King Bhumibol, who is 83 and in ill health, is waning. In the past he has intervened to foil military coups and restore political calm. But there is no expectation the king could direct events now.
Indeed, much of the energy driving demands for swift reform stems from the realization that King Bhumibol, the world's longest serving monarch, is unlikely to be around much longer.
And the heir apparent, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is regarded by many Thais as a flawed character incapable of playing his father's central, sympathetic political role.