News / Asia

Thailand's Current Political Crisis Years in the Making

Thailand’s current political crisis, with street protests that have left at least four people dead and hundreds injured, has been years in the making.
 
The latest protests by the “Yellow Shirts” of Thailand’s color-coded politics echo similar demonstrations in 2006 against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
 
A coalition of royalists and the urban middle class accused the billionaire politician of corruption, and he was deposed by the army in a bloodless coup.
 
Thaksin fled into exile, but remains popular among working class Thais who liked his policies funding healthcare and education.
 
When an opposition Democrat Party leader was chosen as prime minister in 2008, it was the turn of pro-Thaksin “Red Shirt” protesters to paralyze the capital. Made up of largely blue collar workers and farmers, they see their opponents as urban elitists, out of touch with the needs of rural Thais.
 
  • An anti-government protester throws back a tear gas canister fired by riot police in Bangkok, Thailand, Dec. 1, 2013.
  • An anti-government protester cleans his eyes with salt water solution after riot police fired tear gas to the protesters in Bangkok.
  • Police line up to thwart any attempt to occupy their headquarters in Bangkok. (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • An anti-government protester gets ready to throw back a tear gas canister fired by riot police in Bangkok.
  • Anti-government protesters take cover during clashes with police near the Government house in Bangkok.
  • Anti-government protesters use self-made barricade against the water cannons and tear gas fired by riot police in Bangkok.
  • Police move behind their shields as they clash with anti-government protesters near the Government house in Bangkok.
  • An anti-government protester atop a loudspeaker truck calling on the prime minister to "get out" in Bangkok. (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • Police behind razor wire at their headquarters in Bangkok (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • Those protesting want to rid the country of what they say is the lingering influence of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • A crowd listening to an anti-government speech at and above a major Bangkok intersection (Steve Herman/VOA)
  • Tens of thousands take to Bangkok's streets demanding the prime minister's ouster. (Steve Herman/VOA)

In 2011, Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, won election as prime minister at the head of the Pheu Thai party, successor to Thakin’s disbanded People’s Power Party and Thai Rak Thai party. After two years of stability, the political rift reopened over an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return from exile without facing prison for a corruption conviction.
 
The bill was withdrawn, but Thaksin's opponents continued to protest, demanding the government be replaced by an unelected “people's council.”
 
Throughout the dispute, Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been seen as a crucial rudder.
 
As the country paused to mark his 86th birthday, King Bhumibol avoided direct reference to the current political crisis, but said Thailand has found peace and prosperity because everybody has worked together.
 
The King said that “every Thai should be aware of this and should perform their role for the benefit of the country, which is the stability and security of the country.” 
 
Below the king, the second most influential entity is the military. The military has intervened in Thai politics often since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932; the country has witnessed 19 coups and attempted coups since that date.
 
National security advisor Sean Boonpracong contends the generals have been “strong supporters” of the current government.
 
“The military has, I believe, changed radically since the 2006 coup. They have worked with the prime minister in defusing the tension,” said Sean. 
 
But others, such as Panitan Wattanayagorn, a professor and former spokesman for the Democrat Party government, think the military has been signaling sympathy towards the opposition and that might explain why police have grown increasingly reluctant to confront the protesters.
 
“The military say they are supporting the country. They didn’t say they are supporting the government. So that is a big challenge for Khun Yingluck as defense minister, trying to get total support, absolute support from the military. She seems to be not getting that,” said Panitan.
 
The national security advisor, a former spokesman for the red shirts, expressed hope that Thailand has entered an era where military intervention is relegated to history.
 
“I think the word ‘coup’ is, more or less… quite obsolete. But Thailand being Thailand, you never really discount that out,” said Sean. 
 
One theme expressed by those on both sides of the political divide is that Thailand’s Buddhist culture, despite occasional flashes of violence, is one of tolerance.
 
That could explain why, despite insurrection charges filed against protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, there has been no move to actually arrest him.
 
It also can be seen in the move by police to remove barricades to allow the anti-government demonstrators to occupy, at least temporarily and mostly symbolically, key government facilities.
 
There has been demonstrable restraint on both sides in recent days, according to Professor Panitan.
 
“All sides are trying to refrain from using violence, including the police, the military, the demonstrators. If they keep it that way I think we have a new era of contestation. But, of course, we have to admit that we still have bad, destructive elements within every society, including Thai society,” said Panitan.
 
Whether Thailand can avoid further bloodshed remains unclear, but many hope the lesson has been learned from nearly a decade of political upheaval.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

US Urges Taliban to Stay With Afghan Peace Talks

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs