22 May, 2010

What is happening in Thailand?

I cannot claim to be following events in Thailand too closely, but this is my understanding of what is happening there.

Basically, there is this entrenched power elite in Thailand who feel that it is their prerogative to run the country. Some years ago, however, this guy Thaksin Shinawatra became prime minister after his party won an election. Mr Thaksin came from outside the self-perpetuating power elite, but this does not make him some kind of progressive politician. As a rich businessman, his struggle with the Thai establishment is more like a conflict between different elite figures. His party is especially popular outside Bangkok, with his popularity representing something of a revolt by people who have felt themselves left behind by the country’s economic development.

Anyway, the Thai establishment did not like Thaksin and were able to get their pals in the army to stage a coup while he was out of the country. The new government were able to disbar him from public office on corruption charges. Unfortunately for them, every time since then that elections have been called in Thailand, Mr Thaksin’s allies have convincingly won them. This has caused consternation among the establishment. Rather than accept election results, they have periodically mobilised their supporters to take to the streets and force the resignation of pro-Thaksin governments. In an almost Orwellian turn, Thaksin’s opponents have given organised themselves as the People’s Alliance for Democracy, despite their commitment to overthrowing election results and plans to turn the Thai parliament into a largely unelected body stuffed with them and their cronies.

Recently, Thaksin’s supporters took to the streets of Bangkok to try and overthrow the current anti-Thaksin government. After a long stand-off, the authorities were finally able to get the army to clear them from the streets, with several dozen people being killed in the last week.

It is hard to say what the best way forward for Thailand might be. I reckon it would be a good first step if the currently dominant faction could be prevailed upon to accept that whoever wins elections has the right to form the government.


Michael Byrne said...

Complicated place, Thailand. So many red and yellow shades of grey.
Only in Thailand would a crowd of people be able to set up a huge stage in the middle of the commercial district and basically camp there for nigh on two months, while the police turned a blind eye. Could you image a mob being allowed to take over Grafton Street and the Dail, or Trafalgar Sq to Downing, in that manner for that amount of time?
Anyway don't kid yourself that this was a protest for democracy. No one knows the meaning of that word here (or in most places around the world for that matter). Thaksin did some good things for the poor of the North East, but not as much as he could have done. He was far too busy lining his own pockets while in power. And about him being voted into power each time... well votes are easy to get when they come with a few baht attached.
And he's hardly a poster boy for democracy either, just research his crackdown on drugs, which gave carte blanche to the police to carry out extra judicial executions on the flimsiest of evidence.
The recent protests in Bangkok were the result of a power struggle between two moneyed elites, one that wants to cling on to power and the other which enviously covets it. The poor mugs on the street, while fervently believing in the hope dangled in front of them like a red-shirted carrot, were only ever dispensable pawns in a much bigger game. The redshirts had an army ready to fight (hence the handy assassination of Seh Daeng, the chip-carrying militia leader and former Army general who was humiliating sidetracked out of the forces for being too Thaksin obsessed) and, to be honest, I think the outcome could have been far far worse.
Not that it's really over anyway. Things will just go back to Thai normality during the rainy season and heat up again in March-May next year in the hot season.

ian said...

Wow, it's been a while. I have to take issue with this:

Could you image a mob being allowed to take over Grafton Street and the Dail, or Trafalgar Sq to Downing, in that manner for that amount of time?

This is the Tiananmen Square apologist's argument. Maybe if the people who win elections got to form governments in Thailand you would not get people camping out in downtown Bangkok.