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Thailand on the brink

by FarEasterner Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 06:24:36 AM EST

of dictatorship.

Very few countries in the world can rival with Thailand where political crisis became rather normal than extraordinary event. So what's new happening in Bangkok these days?

Army on streets of Bangkok

warning: some very disturbing photos are included

Promoted by whataboutbob


The chronicle of recent unrest in photos from various sources:

After yellow shirts successfully ousted Samak and Somchai governments red shirts adopted tactics of their rivals and started continuous protests in various parts of Bangkok like here around Victory monument.

Thai protests often have carnival like atmosphere and very organized (as many other things in this country).

There is no secret who is organizing red shirted protesters and pressurizing the Abhisit government, the royal court and the Thai army - it's Thaksin from his self imposed exile in Dubai.

Situation quickly deteriorated as red shirted protesters stormed into ASEAN summit venue in Pattaya resort.

Pathetic security at ASEAN summit.

Red shirts are attacking PM car in interior ministry.

At the same time PM Abhisit was declaring the state of emergency in Bangkok, he chastised Thai police chief and called in army to crush red shirts.

Army tanks appear in the centre of Bangkok like this one in commercial heart of the city near Siam square.

Army attacked red shirted protesters trying to shave them off the streets.

Red shirted fighter, allegedly killed in battle with army.

After army pushed red-shirts off the main intersections in the city, red shirted now confined in downtown area near government offices where they made a temporary camp. It's only a matter of time when Army will quell protests.

Quick prehistory to these protests (according to Asia Sentinel):

The protesters regard the current government as illegitimate after it was installed last November following riots by yellow-shirted royalists who shut down the country's two airports and occupied Government House for weeks. A court ruled that the People's Power Party, a surrogate controlled by Thaksin from outside the country, was illegal. After a period of relative calm, Thaksin's red-shirted followers took to the streets.

Unrest has been simmering since the September 2006 coup deposed Thaksin while he was out of the country. With heavy support from the mostly poor, rural Northeast of the country, the Thaksin forces retaliated with a new election that returned an allied party to power. The newly minted prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, was removed from power on charges of having hosted a cooking show on TV while prime minister, a charge the seemed as silly at the time as it does now.

Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law, who headed the People's Power Party, succeeded Samak and was driven from power by the courts after weeks of protest by the yellow shirts.

The same newspaper think that consequences for Thailand will be mostly negative on economic front and cite devaluation of baht by 1% today. Another cause of concern is tourism, according to some data (quoted by CNN) Thailand will lose around 5.6 bln dollars in tourism revenues. I think these claims are exaggerated.

Thailand had had many military coups, played unsavoury role facilitating Americans' extraordinary renditions and tortures of detainess, and did not suffer much. Investors would rather flee elections in democratic India than leave military ruled Thailand. The only consequences for Bangkok regime will be: 1. The question of succession as 82-year old Rama IX is increasingly isolated. 2. Negative coverage of Thailand in foreign media.

On the first I don't know much, maybe the king will abdicate soon, on second there is lively discussion about favourable coverage Thaksin gets from international media.

Look at this article in anti-Thaksin The Nation:

Despite widespread rumours that a number of foreign correspondents are being paid by ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra to attack the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement, concrete evidence remains elusive.

"I think it's a ridiculous allegation," said Nirmal Ghosh, a Bangkok-based correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper. "You have to look at why [the anti-Thaksin PAD leaders] are saying this. It's an everyone who's not with us, are against us attitude. They find it convenient somehow [to accuse us]."

...President of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand Marwaan Macan-Markar also treated the allegation as false. He told The Nation that though Thaksin was not a symbol of democracy, the 2006 coup had made him "a victim" despite his record of human-rights violations and abuse of power.

On the other hand, many among the foreign press could not subscribe to military intervention, said Macan-Markar, who works for the non-profit Inter Press Service news agency.

Macan-Markar added that one had to remember that, while in power, Thaksin was "very harsh" on the foreign press for holding him accountable. He said that journalists like Shawn Crispin and Rodney Tasker of the then-Far Eastern Economic Review magazine suffered a lot at Thaksin's hands.

Crispin, who wrote an investigative article about the ex-PM in 2004, was regarded by the then-Thaksin administration as a "threat to national security". He was told to leave the country, had his passport confiscated and was fingerprinted before being allowed bail.

"I'm definitely not on Thaksin's payroll," Crispin said, though he did admit he was currently holding the post of Southeast Asia editor for the Asia Times online newspaper, which is financed by Thaksin's nemesis and PAD co-leader Sondhi Limthongkul. ..

... Crispin admitted it was not too difficult to understand why the foreign media was upset about the PAD. He said the group's so-called "New politics", where 70 per cent of MPs are supposed to be selected instead of elected, was "a big mistake" and made foreign correspondents "cringe" about the "rolling back of Thai democracy".

-The Nation/Asia News Network

So it is pretty evident that Thaksin's autocratic regime was not popular with journalists, they simply realized reactionary nature of anti-Thaksin yellow shirted forces, that's why they support Thaksin's cause "for the sake of democratic principles".

Few useful links which can help you to make a sense of what's going on in Bangkok for yourself:

Bangkok Pundit is a Thai blogger who keeps us update on happening in Bangkok.

New Mandala is Australia-based blog run by academics with interest in South East Asian affairs. However it's popular with residents of Bangkok, both Thai and expats.

Thai Photo Blogs is the best source on contemporary Thai photography and most photographs above are taken there.

Foreign tourists who stay in Bangkok and especially in Khaosan Rd area should check pages of Southeast Asia Travel Examiner where they can get the best advices on how to keep safe.

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by FarEasterner on Mon Apr 13th, 2009 at 11:50:37 AM EST
Thailand had had many military coups, played unsavoury role facilitating Americans' extraordinary renditions and tortures of detainess, and did not suffer much. Investors would rather flee elections in democratic India than leave military ruled Thailand. The only consequences for Bangkok regime will be: 1. The question of succession as 82-year old Rama IX is increasingly isolated. 2. Negative coverage of Thailand in foreign media.
Thailand seems caught between the rock of globalization and the hard spot of remaining traditional monarchy and values.  All I can say is that modernization and progress brought through the agency of globalization and the doctrine of Neo-Classical Economics will be like taking what is left of Thai society and dropping it into a giant tree stumper.  That prospect does not seem appealing.  Are there any other players in this drama?  And does the military remain loyal to the King and current prime minister or have they had their traditional allegiance subverted by US military aid and the concomitant indoctrination in the benefits of "reform" along lines favorable to US business interests?    

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Apr 13th, 2009 at 05:41:42 PM EST
ARGeezer:
And does the military remain loyal to the King and current prime minister or have they had their traditional allegiance subverted by US military aid and the concomitant indoctrination in the benefits of "reform" along lines favorable to US business interests?
The coup against Thaksin in 2006 showed that the security apparatus remained loyal to tradition despite, for instance, Thaksin stacking the higher ranks with colleagues from his days at the police academy. But it's been nearly 3 years, things are still unstable and it is anyone's guess what will happen when the King is replaced by his son.

It is a sad fact that Thailand's 1997 "liberal democratic" constitution was so easily subverted by the likes of Thaksin, and the country seems indeed caught between a rock and a hard place: reactionary traditionalists and crony capitalists. And we're not even talking about the muslim-majority regions in the far south of the country, which appear increasingly detached from Bangkok regardless of which of the two factions has the upper hand in the capital.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 06:37:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's worth noting that the reactionary traditionalists are having problems in part because they've done nothing over the last 20 years for the rural poor. Their undemocratic proposals for reforming parliament were largely based on stopping said rural masses voting for someone other than them.

Thaksin's crony capitalists likely don't have the interests of the rural poor at heart, but they have directed some small slivers of money towards improving life out in the sticks (mostly road and water projects, alongside some corrupt gimmickry connected to various crony businesses - satellite TV springs to mind.)

Another sad fact is that both sides have indulged in military clampdowns on the Muslim regions with all the horrors that "war on insurgency" usually brings...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 06:57:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've managed to miss all the "action" over the past week beyond what is missing - malls that are closed and very little traffic on the streets. I haven't seen any red shirts, but know other tourists who have been near them and as such left town.

I was up on Khoasan road for Songkram yesterday (Monday). The water fight was on and I was merrily drinking beer when around 2pm they closed down the street and told us to go back to our hotels (I assume this is when things were getting bad around Victory Monument which isn't that far away). We walked off the street but noticed the party was if anything more intense in the surrounding areas so we reloaded our squirt guns and jumped back in the fight until 6pm.

On the taxi ride home we passed victory monument - I saw several burned out buses and a lot of police and military.

Around 8pm I got back to the Sala Daeng BTS station near the Patpong road and Silom road intersection where the street was completely jam packed with people, techno music, and squirt guns. You couldn't tell that anything unusual was otherwise going on in the city.

I fly out tomorrow evening.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Apr 13th, 2009 at 11:12:29 PM EST
was yesterday everywhere, on CNN, BBC. He was scaling down rhetorics, "talking peace". Abhisit accused him in "instigating the violence" but was rather unsuccessful in damage control, not many outside Thailand would now believe what he or his government say about Thailand's commitment to democracy. Last year Thai Army refused to intervene and crush yellow shirted protesters, because Army generals were instigating anti-government violence. So pro-Thaksin forces now gave up, preferring to save their lives to fight another day. They hoped that raising anger in provinces would force government for talks, but it's unclear at this juncture how far they succeeded in winning over the population. Hostility of Bangkok residents was unsurprising as many well to do in the capital participated in last year yellow shirted rallies which brought down two pro-Thaksin governments. But troubles for Thailand's ruling junta are not over yet.
by FarEasterner on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 01:56:28 AM EST
Related EuroTrib Content:
threads: European Salon on 13 April 2009; Saturday Open Thread on 11 April 2009; European Salon on 25 November 2008.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 14th, 2009 at 06:17:53 AM EST


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