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Thailand’s political crisis made headlines worldwide earlier this year, when nearly 90 people _ most of them protesters _ were killed and more than 1,400 people injured during nine weeks of demonstrations.

The protests were crushed when the army moved into the main protest site in Bangkok’s central commercial district on May 19. In a final paroxysm of violence, some protesters set fire to about 30 buildings around the capital, including an upscale shopping mall and the stock exchange.

Discontent has been brewing for years, ever since protests were launched in 2006 accusing then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of corruption and abuse of power.

The military ousted Thaksin in a September 2006 coup, but he remains popular with his mostly rural followers, who together with democracy activists formed the so-called Red Shirt movement that led the most recent anti-government protests.

Witthawat is a native of Chiang Mai province, Thaksin’s birthplace and stronghold.

Phansasiri Kularb, a journalism lecturer at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said such incidents could recur as long as Thai society fails to allow more space for criticism and diversity of opinion.

“As a contender in a singing contest, Witthawat challenged pop culture custom by bringing up politics,” she said, “and the view he voiced happened to be different from what the general public wants to hear.”