"Virtually unseen and certainly unexpected, a new threat is emerging in Asia - and it is not growing on the back of extremist religious dogma. Rather, the newest non-state armed groups battling governments in the name of justice and freedom draw on what was thought to be a dead ideology: Marxism
There is also a strong left-wing current humming through other popular opposition groups such as the Red Shirt movement in Thailand [National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship]. This movement may be built around support for ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, but it is led and inspired by intellectuals who cut their ideological teeth in the Thai Communist Party of the 1970s.
The good news is that while many governments baulk at engaging with Islamic extremist groups considered to be beyond the pale because of their ideological justification of violent acts that target innocent civilians, many of these left-wing groups have specific political demands that often stem from obvious social and economic deprivations or injustices. They resemble old-fashioned liberation movements or peasant uprisings. This suggests dialogue and negotiation can be effective tools for ending violence.
The bad news is that most governments, and some of the left-wing movements, remain stubbornly opposed to dialogue."
While Michael Vatikiotis' op-ed is a couple of weeks old it seems particularly apt to bring the topic of negotiations up while the tensions are rising for the Red's rally in Khao Yai Thiang.
There was talk of negotiations in the last few weeks but, if there were indeed efforts to arrange talks, these seem to have failed as neither side seemed to back away from demands.
As reported in the BKK Post, Thaksin's demands were:
"restoration of the 1997 constitution; a general election; a fair trial on all the cases against him, both those already judged and those pending; and, of course, the return of his legally acquired assets currently frozen by the government."
And the establishment responded:
"Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has made clear his government is ready to talk with Thaksin provided that the first returns to face his two-year jail term"
While Vatikiotis urged negotiate with the Reds on issues of "social and economic deprivations or injustices" it seems negotiations failed over a two-year jail sentence.
Thaksin's assets and jail sentence are somewhat irrelevant in context of the broader issue of a partisan judiciary.
And while an election and the 1997 constitution are significant, the bigger issue of legitimacy and the relationship between those who rule and those being ruled is being fought largely outside of the democratic arena. An election and a trusted constitution are essential, but extra-democratic means of exercising power is the issue which needs to be negotiated.
The failure of an elite-level negotiation is also unfortunate as tensions seem to be at the boiling point as reported by* the Asia Times in a story titled Reds ready to rumble in Thailand:
"While UDD leaders insist their campaign will be peaceful, they also indicate that their protest movement is near a breaking point over what they perceive as a series of non-democratic power grabs and partisan judicial decisions. "We fight through peaceful means," explained pro-UDD radio broadcaster Kwanchai, while suggestively placing a pistol on a nearby table. "But if the government uses force, we will fight back.""
* Note that this last quote tells the story of photo above meaning I am not exactly unbiased for using the Asia Times article.