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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs