This week is all about Thai Politics- “Judgment Day” will be February 26, 2010. This is a major day and happening, tension is running high in Bangkok, Judgment Day will bring military and possible protests, 8 countries have issued travel warnings for Bangkok.
The lay of the land– Bht 76.6 million belonging to former (and exiled) PM Thaksin Shinawatra was seized by the Thai government and frozen while an investigation took place to determine if Thaksin used the office of PM for personal financial gain.
What happens on February 26- the court will hand down the ruling on the Bht 76.6 million- the ruling could seize a major portion, or all, of the money from Thaksin. The media are calling the 26th Judgment Day.
Politics- Thailand’s politics and voting is split almost 50/50 with supporters now identified by their shirt colors. On one side you have the UDD (United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship) which support Taksin and do not agree with his removal from office 4 years ago or the seizure of the assets; UDD supporters are the “red shirts” and predominately come from the North of Thailand, more rural regions with lower income. The “yellow shirts” represent the PAD group (Peoples Alliance for Democracy), PAD is not a political party but a political pressure group formed due to concerns about the power that Thaksin wielded when he was PM. PAD is viewed as more of the Bangkok elite and “money”, they lead the campaign against Thaksin that resulted in the military coup in 2006. Remember, Bangkok makes up 45% of Thailand GDP and is 11 million people while the whole of Thailand is 61.5 million.
The yellow shirts are in power at this time; Thaksin is in exile and has been convicted on “conflicts of interest” with a 2-year jail sentence. He left Thailand to view the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics and fled to England instead of returning to Thailand. Thailand has revoked his passport and issued an arrest warrant for him; Thaksin is currently in Cambodia, fanning the flames even more by helping the Cambodian government develop additional trade opportunities.
The King does not participate in politics; the King rarely makes a direct statement about politics. The military has significant power, but doesn’t openly support one party or candidate. How does the military have power? In times of riots and airport closings, the military is needed to keep law and order- the enforcement of the laws and presence of the military show where they law their support. It appears the military is in a very challenging position- during a riot or disturbance you have a “Thai vs. Thai” situation where the military is using force against a demonstrator, the soldiers might share the same views as the protestors.
The even split of the people has lead to the events over the past two years that included the ousting of one PM, the protest that closed both airports (yellow shirts), the protest that cancelled the ASEAN finance meeting (red shirts) and the violence in Bangkok in 2009 (red shirts).
What is happening- protests by the red shirts are beginning, last Friday a major protest was held in Sathorn in front of the Bank of Bangkok (holder of much of the frozen assets). The military is planning to bring up to 20,000 troops into Bangkok on Thursday.
What could happen- massive protests by the red shirts (UDD), they say they have planned for 1,000,000 to converge on Bangkok at some point in the near future.
Is it safe? Yes, but 8 nations have issued travel advisories for Bangkok. A foreigner in a red or yellow shirt that isn’t attending any protest or gather will be safe- the color shirts and protests are generally confined to the government complexes in Bangkok and only consist of Thai people.
My thoughts- it is amazing to see politics mean something to the people- enough that they will take to the streets. The potential for violence- in a Buddhist country- is still not something I can accept. How is it that America- the most violent country in the world- doesn’t have violence in our politics? After living through the Bush years and seeing American end up in unjustified wars with no major protests, I respect the commitment of the Thai people.
I also hope things stay calm and peaceful- Thailand’s reputation and economy was severely damaged by the airport closures and riots last April when buses were burned and pictures from Bangkok looked like a war zone. More events like the airport closure and riots could prove incredibly detrimental to Thailand’s economy in terms of both tourism and business- over the short and long term.