News / Asia

Thailand's Current Political Crisis Years in the Making

Thailand’s Current Political Crisis Years in the Makingi
X
December 05, 2013 10:23 PM
Bangkok’s recent street protests, that have left at least four dead and hundreds injured, have been years in the making. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman examines the underlying issues fueling the unrest.

VIDEO: Bangkok’s recent street protests, which have left at least four dead and hundreds injured, have been years in the making. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman examines the underlying issues fueling the unrest.

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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid