As Thailand pauses to celebrate King Bhumibol’s birthday, it faces a stark choice: persevere with electoral democracy or plunge the nation into a dangerous phase of civil conflict.

The opposition movement, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, has made it clear that the campaign to remove the government of Yingluck Shinawatra is far from over. The clashes on the streets of Bangkok will probably resume in the coming days. Having played a key role in the deadly suppression of the red-shirt protesters in 2010, Suthep is all-too-aware of the risk of turning Bangkok’s streets into a war zone. All the indications are that he will push on regardless.

Suthep’s agenda is now clear. He wants an appointed government to run Thailand, with a hand-picked “people’s council” and a royally appointed prime minister. And he wants this authoritarian cabal to rid Thailand of the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was prime minister from 2001 until he was deposed by a military coup in 2006. Suthep and his followers despise Thaksin and condemn the influence he has upon the government of his sister, Yingluck.

Suthep doesn’t want Yingluck to resign and call an election. What would seem to be a quite reasonable pathway out of a political impasse is unacceptable to Suthep and his allies in the opposition Democrat Party.

Thailand’s opposition forces don’t want an election because they know they would lose. Their electoral form has been reliably bad. The Democrats lost to Thaksin in 2001 and were decimated by him in 2005. They boycotted the snap election Thaksin called in 2006 (because they had no chance of victory) and were defeated again by Thaksin’s allies in the post-coup election of 2007. In 2011 Yingluck Shinawatra romped into power outpolling the Democrats by more than four million votes.

Stung by repeated electoral defeat, Thailand’s opposition is now walking away from the electoral process.

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