My sources are telling me that it’s still business as usual in Bangkok and throughout Thailand, despite the death toll rising to three from anti-government protests.
The government has invoked the Internal Security Act, which is just short of martial law. It doesn’t prohibit free assembly, but it enables the police to maintain order as it sees fit. Tourists are not being targeted, but are advised to stay out of the demonstration areas, notably around government buildings, the police bureau and the Democracy Monument. Tourism business is normal in most areas in Bangkok, and definitely in the other key areas of the country like Chaing Mai, Pattaya, and Phuket.
Basically, this is a struggle between Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and those who see her government as an extension of the corrupt government of her deposed brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, in exile in Dubai.
That’s why this is an anti-government protest, not necessarily a pro-democracy protest.
Ironically, Thaksin did much for the poor in the rural areas, whose sympathizers are known as “Red Shirts,” who also have the majority in parliament.
The anti-government crowd is lead by Suthep Thaugsuban (สุเทพเทือกสุบรรณ), who quit his parliament position to lead the opposition, the “Blue Shirts.” The Blues tend to be from the intellectual, educated elite classes. And, they do not have control of parliament.
The demonstrations began a month ago when the Yingluck tried to pass a “Graft Amnesty” plan that would have essentially allowed her brother back into politics. I saw a few “Stop Graft Amnesty” signs along the canals of Bangkok when I was there, indicating the widespread disagreement with the idea.
When the bill was stopped successfully, Suthep didn’t stop there, but went further, and called for the overthrow of the government.
It’s a move seen as sidestepping the majority of people that actually voted in more Reds than Blues into parliament, and therefore being seen as anti-democratic.
An overthrow of the government seems to be an over-reach of sorts, and calling for Yingluck to step down also seems presumptuous.
Some Thai political commentators are scratching their heads about Suthep, calling him a “false prophet.” It’s the reason why it’s hard to back the Blues 100p.
Most people, even at the demonstrations, seem apolitical, and part of a vast middle. They love the king, the country, and their religion (Buddah), and will say so. It’s the reason why they could have a month of demonstrations without any violence.
But we have now reached a point where Suthep is forcing Yingluck to do something. Step down? Arrest Suthep? Dissolve the House? Thai moderates are distressed because they don’t want to see the violence of the past come back. But there’s this sense that Suthep is going for broke here, and willing to see how the inexperienced Yingluck will do things. Some suspect Yingluck is a puppet being controlled by her exiled brother. There have been some key moves in the military in the last few days to suggest that.
In the meantime, the King’s birthday is Thursday, a national holiday. As mentioned, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and everyone loves the King. It’s all the little people who muck up things with this political stuff.
It was interesting to be in Bangkok a week ago. Even then, things can take place in parallel universes in Thailand. On Loy Kraithong, a big floating lights festival, thousands were celebrating peacefully on the river at the same time 50K were at the Democracy Monument for a big turning point rally last week.
Not sure how the death toll will impact demonstrators this week. It could bring people to their senses and force talks to unify the government. (So far both sides are digging in. Yingluck calls Suthep’s demands unconstitutional. Suthep says nothing’s negotiable).
Americans should be concerned because Thailand has been a good friend and ally. The country was expecting 1.13 million U.S. visitors in 2014, spending 79.5 billion baht (30 baht to $1) for things like weddings and special events (think “Hangover 2”), as Thailand tries to steal business from the Caribbean and other resort destinations.
Political instability is one more chili in the mix that no one expected.
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