There will, again, be blood on the streets of Bangkok.
Until this week the police have served as a barrier. They are the ones keeping the young, pro-democracy student protesters physically apart from the uneducated thugs who appear to have been mobilised to support the monarchy. Last week, in an extremely ominous move, they began to withdraw. At some point soon a clash will occur and when it does, people will die.
The difference this time is that the demonstrators will have video and the internet to push their own reality out into the public arena. This alone makes what's happening today very different from the (failed) popular uprisings of 1973 and 2010. A new lack of reserve, coupled with a remarkable disrespect for the current king, appears to be animating today's protesters.
Back in 1992, as similar protests developed against the military dictatorship, I stood watching as the current king's venerated father, Rama IX, brokered a peace deal that saw the military return to their barracks and the democrats return to university. People knelt as the king appeared. Even those watching him on television sank to the ground, bowing their heads in a remarkable show of respect. Last week, however, as his son Vajiralongkorn drove past a massive crowd of protesters, they simply turned their back on the royal motorcade, waving their hands with a three fingered salute.
In the past such actions would have represented an inconceivable insult to the monarchy. Today, however, the pressure for genuine economic and social reform is growing rapidly.
Like any complex society, Thailand is composed of different interest groups. All have their own individual frustrations, but the risk for the government is that groups formerly alienated from one another are now coming together and demanding change. Highly educated student protesters pushing for democratic reform have, until now, been isolated from the impoverished rural poor. Stories of Vajiralongkorn's immense personal wealth ($70 billion) and extensive property holdings, coupled with rumours that the king is unwell, have added to the sense of crisis.
That's why the past is no guide to what will happen next. This is, however, a crisis that Australians should be very concerned about - and not simply because we holiday in overwhelming numbers on the beaches in the gulf, or because Vajiralongkorn was educated at King's School in Sydney and Duntroon.
Thailand has been a vital strategic partner to Australia.
During the East Timor crisis of 1999, for example, Thailand was the first ASEAN country to come forward to assist Australia, with an offer of troops and a deputy commander for the small peacekeeping force. This brought Asian partners to the peace table.
What's required in Bangkok today is a similar means of overcoming entrenched positions to open the way for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Achieving this will require goodwill and compromise on both sides.
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer and a regular columnist.