Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Brief Summary of the Crisis in Thailand

I figure that most people aren't really familiar with the background of what is happening in Thailand right now, so here is what it is about:

Thailand used to have a Prime Minister named Thaksin Shinawatra. He was a very rich businessman whose family owned a large portion of Thailand's mobile phone service. He became Prime Minister by engaging in a lot of populist governance: He made sure that the poor people (essentially anybody who didn't live in Bangkok) were always happy... and admittedly, they were. Thaksin was popular.

Thaksin was also corrupt. His government engaged in an extrajudicial war on drugs, and stifled dissent in both government and the media. He also abused his position as Prime Minister to engage in nepotism and enrich his business holdings.

It was in early 2006 when the Shinawatra family attempted to sell the entirety of their family business to a Singapore corporation... tax free. The richer but influential urban minority (The Yellow Shirts: these are primarily educated political activists from the Bangkok area; they wear yellow shirts because that is the king's color, and it is presumed that Thaksin and people who vote for him aren't big fans of the king... not really true in the strictest sense) of Thailand revolted and this forced an election against Thaksin and his majority. Due to the "snap" election in which campaigning and political maneuvering was severely limited, most minority politicians boycotted. (Thaksin's party actually had to pay — illegally — other minor political parties to put forward candidates in order to get enough candidates to make the election legitimate.)

Thaksin and his political party won the election easily.

The election results were tossed out by the Supreme Court. They instituted a "caretaker" government (led by Thaksin's party) until "proper" elections could be held later in the year.

In September of 2006, before new elections could be held (which Thaksin would probably have won) The Yellow Shirts and military performed a coup d'etat while Thaksin was out of the country. The military installed a temporary government... primarily Thaksin's opponents. Additionally, Thaksin's political party was dissolved, and many of the top members were banned for 5 years from politics because of their illegal payment to minor political parties to stand in the 2006 elections. The remainder of Thaksin's political compatriots joined another minor political party.

The remnants of Thaksin's political coalition won the next election scheduled by the military-backed government at the end of 2007, essentially "overturning" the coup d'etat. Quite immediately, The Yellow Shirts claimed, essentially, that any party made up primarily of Thaksin's old political party was in essence the same as the previously-banned political party. In addition, charges were made of further election irregularities on the part of Thaksin's political coalition. However, Prime Minister Samak — hand picked by Thaksin, who was directing Thai politics from exile outside of Thailand — took office. Thaksin returned to Thailand briefly, was charged with corruption, and then promptly fled the country again to be tried and convicted in absentia.

The Yellow Shirts forced a vote of no confidence against PM Samak. It didn't work.

The Yellow Shirts protested. The Supreme Court declared that the charges originally placed against Thaksin's Party... and PM Samak... were justified, and removed Samak from the office of Prime Minister.

The Thai government, with a pro-Thaksin majority, immediately voted PM Samak back into office. However, Samak abandoned his post. Therefore, the pro-Thaksin majority put Thaksin's brother-in-law, Somchai, in the Prime Minister's office. The Yellow Shirts obviously had a fit. They shut down Bangkok's international airport for 10 days. The Supreme Court ruled that Somchai and Thaksin's old political partners — regardless of what party they were in — were essentially still members of Thaksin's political party. The party leaders were banned from politics for 5 years. Thaksin's opponents took over the reins of government... finally.

At this point the Red Shirts... the poor rural majority supporters of Thaksin... showed up. (They wear Red Shirts primarily to differentiate themselves from The Yellow Shirts.) Obviously they were angry because three different governments that they supported had been thrown out by the military, the courts, and The Yellow Shirts' actions.

So here we are today: The Red Shirts know that if they can force an election, the majority that they represent will likely win and the government that they elect will be friendly to ex-PM Thaksin and his political ideology. If The Red Shirts get their way, The Yellow Shirts will then take their place in the streets. It will all start again: The poor of Thailand will decide who will govern from this point forward if allowed a free vote, and they will (for now) always elect politicians whom the wealthy, educated, and military of Thailand don't want ruling.

Most importantly, this has become a poor-versus-rich (Red versus Yellow / North versus Bangkok) confrontation — with political parties and governments as pawns and proxy — which is what makes this very important: This is a discussion that Thailand has never had before... and it could become very ugly. This is only the beginning.


Lope Tabil said...

Thanks for the explanation about the political situation in Thailand. I haven't been following it. I lived in Thailand between 1986-87 while taking my Master's degree. It was peaceful and progressive that time.

Anonymous said...

Excellent explanation. I am following the situation closely. I dont think this will end until the the King passes or Thaksin dies. This is just another small fight leading to a civil war which will change the landscape forever. I hope I am wrong and everyone goes back to smiling and enjoying holidays.

from Jakal

Jungle Jil said...

I'm inclined to disagree Jakal. I think that this won't be resolved until populist politicians that The Yellow Shirts can accept run for office... or (more likely) the government and Thailand (and the military) just starts ignoring (or killing) The Yellow Shirts completely. None of those appears set to happen soon.

Mom said...

And how are all your friends in Pattaya? Pattaya isn't that far from Bangkok. What are their impressions of all the goings on?

Jungle Jil said...

Pattaya is about 90 miles away from Bangkok. You can read Stan's blog here. Apparently the curfew in place effects Pattaya as well. I don't think that the foreigners are all that concerned. This is a Thai thing.