Thailand’s Political Current and the Tides of Its People

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Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Elected July 2011
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Elected July 2011

For the past several years, Thailand has been in political uproar which the news has been covering somewhat. Part of the reason for this lukewarm coverage by the media is because the Thai people tend to keep their problems to themselves and don’t generally like outsiders knowing their business. Based off of interviews with native Thais living both in the US and Thailand, and by comparing these to the information given by news outlets, it shows that things are very different in Thailand than what is being broadcast. The situation in Thailand over the past few years is more than what the news has shown it to be; these events are a point of concern for to the stability of South-East Asia, which combined with the recent election of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could impact more than just that region because Thailand is also a major trade center.

The 2006 Military Coup was bloodless.
The 2006 Military Coup was bloodless.


In order to understand the roiling sea that is Thai politics, one must understand the political structure of Thailand. The country is a constitutional monarchy. The executive branch consists of both a king and a prime minister. Although the king possesses no real political powers, he is incredibly influential because of the reverence held for him by most Thais. In fact, he is considered a symbol of national identity and any disrespect to him or his image is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment (Thai Politics). Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej has held the throne of Thailand for 60 years and his reign has been very popular and enlightened according to many of the Thais I know. Of interest to this particular subject is the military lead coup d'état that took place on September 19th 2006 (Yuan). This coup ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power while he was out of the country attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The coup occurred less than a month before the scheduled nationwide general elections. According to Asia Media of UCLA:

“The military takeover was Thailand's 19th coup since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 and its first in 15 years. The country has come under military rule several times between 1947 and 1991. Like many previous coups in the country's history, power changed hands without any real violence taking place.”

According to my wife & mother-in-law, who still has family still living in Thailand, this is about normal. Violence isn’t something the general Thai culture gravitates to (Thai Politics). Of additional interest is that there are rumors that King Bhumibol Adulyadej condones the military coup. But what caused the coup?

The more traditional Yellow Shirts.
The more traditional Yellow Shirts.
The pro-democracy Red Shirts.
The pro-democracy Red Shirts.


Between September 2006 and now (July 2011) Thailand has had 7 Prime Ministers. A normal term is supposed to be 4 years. This shows a great deal about the turmoil and political unrest within Thailand’s infrastructure. The reason for this turmoil in general and the 2006 coup in particular is the problems of the traditional Thai prospective clashing with not only Western ideals but - more insidious to the Thai people - a culture of corruption and graft that sometimes comes with young Democracies. Accusations directed at Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra show that to the majority of the Thai military and people considered his administration to be dishonest and corrupt. But despite this there is a large faction that is very much for allowing democracy to play out. This group is not necessarily in favor for the deposed prime minister however. The more traditional minded Thais have been given the name of Yellow Shirts while the pro-democracy Thais are Red Shirts (insert Star Trek joke here). The reason for the Yellow Shirt’s name is because yellow is the color of the King. Thais associate colors to different days, months, seasons and moods. The day the king was born was yellow. As such that is his color.

Some examples of unrest since the 2006 coup was in 2008 when for two weeks the Bangkok airport was closed because of a sit-in by the Yellow Shirts. Interestingly enough my wife (then fiancés) and her family were visiting family in Thailand just a couple weeks before this even occurred. According to my mother-in-law, the Thais didn’t talk about politics much if at all while she was there. Much like a poker game, the Thais keep things close to the chest. The only exception was when someone mentioned the deposed prime minister which resulted in very vocal disgust. “They would say things like ‘he was skimming from the top and stealing from the Thai people’”(Thai Politics).

A map of Thailand and surrounding countries.
A map of Thailand and surrounding countries.


Note these feelings in contrast to the recent elections of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (the first female Thai Prime minster) who is former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s younger sister. According to political observer of Thailand “The decisive victory by Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai (Red Shirts) party was "a very strong punch in the gut" to Thailand's ruling elite and will in fact lend the country some stability for now” (Yuan). Despite this observation there a many including family in Thailand who hold reservations. It is no secret that the “ruling elite” include the Thai military. What is more, the large number of Yellow Shirts indicates that this particular issue is not settled. It seems that the Yingluck Shinawatra and her administration should step carefully if they want to avoid a repeat of the 2006 coup. Of particular interest in relation to this news is that Yingluck Shinawatra has voiced that she has no current plans to bring her exiled bother back to Thailand (such a move that could spell doom to her political career).

A recent conflict has made news between Thailand and Cambodia over a border dispute. Preah Vihear (translated to Tranquil temple) is at center of conflict.
A recent conflict has made news between Thailand and Cambodia over a border dispute. Preah Vihear (translated to Tranquil temple) is at center of conflict.


The turmoil within Thailand has great potential to create instability within the region not seen since the Vietnam War. High hopes that the current political climate will stabilize with this recent election are counter balanced by a view of the recent past combined with recent clashes between Thailand and Cambodia (Harvey). Is it possible that the Thai nation will stabilize into a solid democracy? Is civil war or any other form of war possible? One can hope for the best, but the mean time the world holds its breath as we watch what happens over the next 4 years of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s term in office.

Works Cited

"AsiaMedia : The Press in Thailand's Coup." AsiaMedia Archives. Web. 26 July 2011.<http://www.asiamedia.ucla.edu/06thailandcoup/>.

Harvey, Rachel. "Thailand and Cambodia clash again along border." BBC.co.uk. 23 Apr. 2011. BBC. 25 July 2011 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13173906>.

"Thai PM deposed in military coup." BBC News - Home. 20 Sept. 2006. BBC News. 20 July 2011 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5361512.stm>.

"Thai Politics" Personal interview. 15 July 2011.

Yuan, Elizabeth. "Yingluck won: What's next for Thailand? - CNN.com." CNN.com. 4 July 2011. CNN News. 11 July 2011 <http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/07/04/thailand.election.analysis/index.html?hpt=wo_c2>.

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Comments 10 comments

PETER LUMETTA profile image

PETER LUMETTA 5 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

Heck I live in Thailand and it's hard to know what the Thais think about any political subject. My observation is the poor and upcountry people favor Yingluk and her brother and the City folks in Bangkok are more for the rule of law and order. So far Yingluk is doing OK and she can be a very stabilizing influence if she can keep the people calm and not step on to many toes. I was very surprised that they elected a woman but good for them.

Peter


ibbarkingmad profile image

ibbarkingmad 5 years ago from Utah Author

Wonderful! Thank you for your insights Peter. It adds to my article and gives a prospective I currently don't have. Marrying into a Thai family is fun, but I have yet to visit the country. Perhaps after I finish school (only 2 semesters left!). Thanks again!


TravelinAsia profile image

TravelinAsia 5 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

What do you make of the recent mass grave discovered? Some are speculating that these are the bodies of missing red-shirt protesters from the violent clash with the military last year? It seems quite suspicious, and the comments from former PM Suthep seem to be quite ridiculous.


ibbarkingmad profile image

ibbarkingmad 5 years ago from Utah Author

It could be that those are the missing red shirts. It is rather scary what is and has been happening in Thailand.


PETER LUMETTA profile image

PETER LUMETTA 5 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

Speculation here in Thailand is that they are the missing protesters who fought against the Army. They are not up in arms over it and it will not cause another round of protests. The Thais are very pragmatic about these things, whats done is done and now we have Yongluck the one we wanted. They will show they are not happy but they have retained face and that is more important. It is different than the west. Thanks,

Peter


TravelinAsia profile image

TravelinAsia 5 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

I still can't believe that former PM Suthep was quoted as saying that the red-shirts killed each other and ambulance drivers and nurses stole the bodies?


ibbarkingmad profile image

ibbarkingmad 5 years ago from Utah Author

Yah Peter, I see that with the Thai people. I married one. In some ways it is an admirable trait. In others, I worry about abuses of personal freedoms. Still, either way, the Thai people a wonderful people. I am glad I have had such opportunity to get to know them better.


TravelinAsia profile image

TravelinAsia 5 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

Check this out : An excellent documentary on BBC television, showcasing the truth behind last years violent clashes between the Thai Military, and the red-shirt protesters. At the time the world media was slow to criticize the Thai government, but since a new government has come to power, the story has changed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QufwX0JsdXA&feature...


Prisana profile image

Prisana 5 years ago from Thailand and Colorado

Ambitious hub, especially since you have never been to Thailand. I don't think the world is holding their breath, but Thais have been collectively holding their breaths for quite some time now. The future is truly uncertain and only time will tell how this current state of affairs will play out.


ibbarkingmad profile image

ibbarkingmad 5 years ago from Utah Author

Thailand is a manufacturing & teade center. While not the largest center, political unrest there does effect the world. While the news media may not truly understand the background, there are definitely others who do. When I wrote this, I still didn't fully understand the issue so I am still learning. This article was initially written for a political geography class (I am studying to be a teacher). I will definitely need to edit this article when I get a little more time as there is more that I have learned that brings light to the subject. But for now, back to my 18 credits. Thanks for your comments and thoughts!

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