For months now, protesters have gathered in the capitals of many developing nations—Turkey, Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Malaysia, and Cambodia, among others—in demonstrations united by some key features. In nearly all of these places, protesters are pushing to oust presidents or prime ministers they claim are venal, authoritarian, and unresponsive to popular opinion. Nearly all of these governments, no matter how corrupt, brutal, and autocratic, actually won elections in relatively free polls. And in nearly all of these countries the vast majority of demonstrators hail from cosmopolitan areas: Kiev, Bangkok, Caracas, Istanbul, and other cities. The streets seem to be filled with very people one might expect to support democracy rather than put more nails in its coffin.
Why are these demonstrations exploding now, when protesters in places like Thailand have been organizing against their governments for months if not years? For one, these governments have shored up their backing from important international players, which may make them feel more secure in cracking down. In Ukraine’s case, the government has been bolstered by billions in assistance from Russia. In Thailand and Malaysia, the governments have benefited from the tacit support of the United States, which has expressed support for the results of democratic processes. And hard-liners in the police in some of these nations have for weeks called for tougher tactics. In Thailand, for example, where the government has until now mostly let protesters take over and shut down ministries, businesses, and intersections, mid-level police officers have pushed senior commanders to take more aggressive measures—and those measures are now being carried out.
Protesters also have become more indebted to hard-liners in their camps and thus more willing to use violence. In Ukraine, as the number of protesters has dwindled somewhat over the past two months, the rump group included the hardest-core elements willing to wait out a brutal winter. In Thailand, the size of the demonstrations has fallen by more than half since early January, but the remaining protesters apparently include shadowy instigators armed with assault rifles concealed in sacks and grenades. Some hard-line Thai anti-government activists also seem to believe that if they can provoke major bloodshed in Bangkok, the military will be forced to step in and carry out yet another in Thailand’s long history of coups.
To read more of my analysis of why these protests are coming to a head this week, read the whole article here.