As with so many nations of the world, Thailand is the sum of many parts, cobbled together over time by foreign conquerors or invading neighbors. Protesters who have been “occupying Bangkok” for the past five months are, in part, rekindling regional and ethnic divisions that have been simmering for decades. Yet, beneath the ethnic strife, calls for secession and threats of a military coup or a dictatorship, the conflict has grown out of the widening divide between a more prosperous south and an economically deprived rural north, north east and urban poor.
Current Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of telecommunications billionaire Shaksin Shinawatra, whose government was overthrown in a 2006 military coup, was brought to power following the 2011 general election with support from an economically depressed majority. Although both dominant parties are led by a ruling political class, the current conflict has been reduced by the media to a fight between those from the mostly poor north vs. a more middle- and richer-class south.
We forecast that — considering that the majority of voters are from the north, northeast and urban poor (who have successfully voted in the last three governments since the 2006 coup) — the Bangkok protest movement will fail to achieve its primary goal of replacing the Shinawatra government. As tensions escalate, Thailand will trend closer to civil war and secession movements will gain momentum. And, to varying degrees and on different timetables, so too will neighboring Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia for essentially the same reasons: Far too few have much too much, and far too many have much too little. With nothing left to lose, people will be losing it.