To give everyone a little heads up on the situation in Thailand we’ll start in 2006 when Thaksin Shinawatra, a rich businessman and popular PM, was ousted in a coup. He was toppled as he was said to have committed fraudulent business and actions. He had broad support from the poorer part of the population. He reached this popularity with populist policies (e.g. cheap medical care).
In my point of view, although he developed sound policies and helped the people and economy of Thailand, his fraudulent behavior damaging the country and costing it quite some money is not acceptable. Also his behavior during the stressful times with it’s neighbor country Cambodia was not correct and not favoring the situation. I’m not talking about the recent clashes around the temple of Preah Vihar but his appointment as economic advisor about two years ago.
He is a convicted criminal who has to serve a two years jail term and in the interest of his country, the rule of law, democratic values and the Thai people he should serve this term. But now, with his younger sister, Yingluck, in office and recent moves it looks like the new government wants to bring him back into the country without him serving the term.
Since the coup, Thailand has been in an ongoing internal struggle, which was close to a civil war in April/May 2010, when the red-shirt fraction of the population occupied important parts of the capital Bangkok.
The country itself is split in two main groups of people (although there are more and also the groups are split within). There are the red-shirts, which are supportive of the Shinawatra clan. And then there are the yellow-shirts, which are said to be the Bangkok elite and loyal monarchists. The red-shirts have occupied Bangkok twice (April 2009, April/May 2010) and the yellow-shirts once (November-December 2008) during the last three years. All the times, this struggle had a negative impact to the reputation of the country, which it is heavily dependent on it in touristic terms of course.
The word “reconciliation” is a permanent attendant in Thai political vocabulary and also in the news (of course). The progress towards this state is, very unfortunately, slow. Politically the Puea Thai party (Yingluck, red-shirt) has won the election by a landslide earlier this year; the Democratic Party (Abhisit, yellow-ish shirt) lost and is now in opposition.
After one month in charge, the PT government made some international noise when they enabled Thaksin to travel to Japan – this caused quite some uproar and questions in the DP as well as some media.
And this is where I’ll be starting my news coverage now…
These are articles about the travel plans of Thaksin. He’s visited Japan already but I’m not too sure about his Cambodia plans.
The PM of Cambodia, Hun Sen, is quite some controversial figure in international politics. He’s been in office for about 13 years and is a close friend of Thaksin. Recent policies in Cambodia though are directed against its people as they are resettled forcefully in order to please international businesses (http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/features/2011/03/2011315132058786978.html)
Cambodia is a kingdom under King Noridom Sihamoni, though the monarch is not as revered and popular as his Thai counterpart, HM King Bhumipol. This extends the power of PM Hun Sen whereas Yingluck has to keep in mind that the power of the monarchy in Thailand can intervene in politics – although not legally, the King’s words and advice are seen as great source of knowledge and are taken very serious by the whole population (http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2011/09/06/national/Pardon-a-test-of-Yinglucks-allegiance-30164602.html; http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2011/09/06/national/Pardon-for-Thaksin-is-the-mandate-of-HM-Chalerm-30164599.html).
HM Bhumipol is advised by a Privy Council, which is led by Prem Tinsulanonda. He is an important personality (former PM, former military chief, anti-Thaksin) in Thai politics and was said to be involved in the 2006 coup, which ousted Thaksin. Though his power is fading as this article discusses (http://asiancorrespondent.com/64135/is-prem-losing-his-influence/).
Thaksin’s cases are under revision under the new government and this seems to be a quite dangerous development. Dropping any cases or bringing him back to Thailand without any legal consequences is in my point of view something that is just harmful to Thailand and in case this happens I do not want to be in the country at that time as it only can lead to further troubles (http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2011/09/02/national/The-state-of-the-cases-against-Thaksin-30164322.html). Another way to bringing him back is by amending the constitution or a royal pardon. We’ll see how this develops over the next weeks and months as the application for the royal pardon is already filed (http://asiancorrespondent.com/64211/what-of-puea-thai’s-plans-to-amend-the-constitution-an-update/).
How Yingluck is trying to reconcile and bring Thailand to a more robust and peaceful state is discussed here: http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3710&Itemid=185
The monarchy is subject of the next news article now and it’s dealing with the lese majeste law in Thailand. This law protects the monarchy of any insulting, threatening or defaming behavior and carries jail terms of up to 15 years. Since the coup in 2006 the cases of lese majeste have increased and one of the latest cases involved an US citizen of Thai origin who was accused of offending the throne with certain posts on an Internet page. The latest one and also the first one under the new government is involving a Thai national who was accused of offending the monarch on his Facebook page (http://asiancorrespondent.com/64178/thai-accused-of-insulting-king-on-facebook/). The case with the most attention from the media is the case against Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the editor of the Prachatai webpage (http://asiancorrespondent.com/18506/commentary-on-the-prachatai-raid/; http://asiancorrespondent.com/63995/chiranuch-on-trial-in-thailand/).
This case is used as an example to show how Thai authorities restrict the freedom of speech. Another case on the Thai media is the threats against a Channel 7 reporter who dared to ask the Thai PM Yingluck questions that made her feel uncomfortable and outraged some of her supporters, who took action and protested in front of the Channel 7 building several days ago (http://asiancorrespondent.com/63975/intimidation-of-the-press-cannot-be-tolerated/).
Here you’ll find a quite interesting point of view of a farang (Westerner) on the current situation in Thailand and where it is might heading to: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2011/09/01/opinion/Thailand-heads-toward-thuggish-dictatorship-30164159.html
Make yourself a picture on the freedom of speech in the country and read about it. The posts on the Asian Correspondent page are linked with previous articles and information on the cases; therefore they are a good source of getting a grasp of the situation.
Regarding the lese majeste, there is another debate in the House, which caused some stalemate in recent Thai political progress. This debate is about reciprocal lese majeste accusations of party members of the PT and DP and about the involvement in the April/May 2010 clashes that occurred in the city centre of Bangkok. The sixth paragraph describes (“The remark drew….”) the possible outcome of such a deadlock in the debate and towards reconciliation quite well (http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/254603/conflict-will-continue-until-truth-is-told).
And before I’ll end the update here some more economics. Yingluck’s government won the election due to a professional campaign, her brother’s popularity and populist policies (which we know from her brother already). These policies are not a bad thing. Basically. But as this op-ed in the Bangkok Post states, it also needs to be financed. And Thailand is not heading towards a prosperous future if it does not take measures that change the basic composition of the Thai work force. In my point of view, the educational system has to be strengthened and further developed (not just equipped with 4 million tablet PCs). The workforce in Thailand is well educated but it is still lagging behind in international comparison. In order to be prepared for a more globalized world and a tougher competition, education is one key to success.
The Democrat Party is arguing as well against the short-term focus of the current governments policies and is seeing itself as the “savior” (http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2011/09/04/national/Thais-future-depends-on-us-Abhisit-tells-party-30164455.html).
Longer discussion on the policies of the current government:
“Thai Steps to Boost Growth Fuel Concern”, WSJ
“Thailand to Raise Minimum Wage”, WSJ
On the correctness of the results of the last election: