Thailand’s Political Current and the Tides of Its People
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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.
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?
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).
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).
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.
"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>.
Related Links and Sources
- AsiaMedia :: The Press in Thailand\'s Coup
First coup in 15 years shakes up the country's political, media landscape -
- BBC News - Thailand and Cambodia clash again along border
At least four soldiers die in renewed fighting on the Thai-Cambodia border, bringing the death toll to 10 in two days.
- BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Thai PM deposed in military coup
Thailand's military leaders stage a coup, suspend the constitution and declare martial law.
- Yingluck won: What's next for Thailand? - CNN.com
The decisive victory by Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai 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, said one political observer of Thailand.