Politics isn’t a subject that I’ve ever brought up on here, but I think that with the crazy mess that’s going on in Thailand it’d be nice to do some talking about that.
I try to avoid being political online, whether it be here on my blog, or on Twitter, or Facebook, or anywhere else. I avoid it mostly because in Thailand politics is a pretty sensitive subject, as Thai society is incredibly polarized by this point. But with the recent political turmoil regarding the introduction of the Amnesty Bill, I decided that I’ll go back in time a little and trace Thailand’s recent history and then I’ll write a bit about what’s going on right now. As I’ve never written on the subject of Thai politics on here before, I figured that it’d be nice to do a bit of history.
The huge problems that the country is facing right now all stem back to one September day in 2006. I remember waking up on that day and my parents telling me that there was no school. I was in first grade, I didn’t know a thing about politics and (understandably) didn’t care. Little did I know that what had happened on that day is probably the most momentous event in recent Thai history. Thaksin Shinawatra, then-Prime Minister of Thailand, had been ousted from his position in a coup d’état launched by the military.
It’s not like coups haven’t happened before in the country- in fact there’s been around 18 attempted or successful coups- but this one was the first in nearly two decades. Thaksin, a business telecommunications tycoon who went into politics and won an election by a landslide, armed himself with populist policies which appealed with the rural, giving him a huge amount of popularity. But after numerous accusations of corruption and abuse of power, launching his ‘War on Drugs’ campaign with cruelty and selling shares of his telecommunications business, an important national asset, to a Singaporean company, the coup d’état was launched. Later, Thaksin would be found guilty on his corruption charges and huge amounts of his money would be confiscated. His political party, the Thai Rak Thai (Thai Love Thai) party, would be dissolved after the court ruled that it had violated election laws. Thaksin, who was abroad during the coup, would never return to the country apart from one brief visit before he was found guilty.
Even without his physical presence in the country, however, Thaksin has managed to continue to be a very dominant figure in Thai politics. The next years after the coup would be turmoil after turmoil.
After a year of the country being ruled by the military-backed interim government, Thaksin’s new proxy party, the People’s Power party, took power under the leadership of two nominee Prime Ministers. During this time, the Yellow Shirts, who were extremely opposed to Thaksin, moved in to besiege and occupy the Government House and later the international airport. (Funnily, one of the Thaksin-nominated PMs during this time would never set foot into his office at Government House). The People’s Power party would be dissolved after being found guilty of election fraud.
After some political maneuvering, the opposition Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest political party, found itself in the halls of power with the Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva as the new Prime Minister. In
imitation of the style of the Yellow Shirts, who opposed Thaksin, a Red Shirt group was founded to oppose Abhisit. In 2009, the Red Shirts broke into a hotel where all the Southeast Asian leaders were conferencing and caused havoc in Bangkok, while in 2010 they occupied the commercial heart of the city and stayed there for three months, setting up bunkers and walls. Bombings happened frequently (one was aimed at the Grand Palace, but missed and bounced back to kill the bomber) and snipers began to pick off important political figures. Despite the Democrat government’s repeated pleas and warnings for the protesters to move out of the area over the months, as while protesting was a political right, occupying and completely sealing off roads was not. The military eventually began a crackdown which caused a chaotic mess, with shopping malls being burned down and 2000 people wounded with 90 dead.
Abhisit would dissolve Parliament eventually and a new Thaksin proxy party, the Phue Thai (‘For the Thais’) party took power with Thaksin’s own sister, Yingluck. How did this government reach power? No accusations here, but the brainwashing of the northeastern region and the buying of votes is very likely.
I don’t want to just make this post completely biased, but in full honesty, the Yingluck administration has been hopelessly incompetent and corrupted. A complete failure to manage the dam system caused the country’s biggest floods in half a century in 2011- I’ve talked about that before- mismanagement of rice selling policies has caused Thailand to lose its no 1. spot, prices of gas continue to skyrocket because of unwise policies, and so much other stuff that I’d need a list. Oh, wait, I didn’t even mention the fact that the government wants to borrow huge amounts of money for unclear plans. In any case, Thailand continues to have its de facto leader as Thaksin with Yingluck as a mere proxy. He still can’t return to Thailand, because if he does he has to serve his two years in prison, but he’s certainly the one calling the shots.
The Latest Episode: The Amnesty Bill
Before we move on, let me establish very clearly that I have a low opinion of Thaksin and his proxy governments. Election fraud, corruption, leanings for disloyalty towards the monarchy, the creation of numerous self-benefitting policies are only a few reasons why.
Now, I’ve given quite a bit of a run-through of recent Thai politics (and what a mess it’s all been), but now the current
episode in the Thai political drama is the Amnesty Bill. Passed at the middle of the night in the Parliament, it is now waiting for approval from the Senate. People are paying attention because it’s this Amnesty Bill proposes to clear all political charges from 2004 up until now, which while would clear Abhisit of murder charges he now has for ordering the military clearing of the protesters, would more importantly clear Thaksin’s corruption charges and allow him to return to the country without facing jail time.
I don’t want to throw ‘crazy’ around lightly, especially when describing politics, but seriously though. You cannot just clear everyone of their charges and ‘set everything back to zero’. That’s basically making law meaningless. Simply because the government wants their dear leader Thaksin back doesn’t mean that they can do anything to get back a leader, probably corrupted, who has polarized the country like no one has ever done before.
It’s ironic that Thaksin and other Pheu Thai leaders claim to have committed no offense or breach of the law whatsoever but are yearning to be cleared of charges, while Abhisit and other leaders on his side are facing murder charges, but refuse to accept the Amnesty bill.
Currently, massive protests are still going on. A probably frightened government has promised to withdraw the Amnesty Bill, but as yet no concrete actions have been taken. Words are useless without action, but Yingluck is pleading protesters to withdraw. Tough luck.
Thailand continues to be a heavily polarized society and honestly I don’t know where the country is going to head. Voters continue to vote the corrupted Thaksin proxy parties back into power again and again, and there really is no end in sight to the political turmoil as long as Thaksin and his proxies continue to meddle in Thai politics. There’s nothing that can easily heal such a divided society except for the complete withdrawal from politics of Thaksin and that obviously isn’t happening anytime soon.
For now, it remains to be seen what will happen to the Amnesty Bill. One thing’s for sure however, and it’s that the Amnesty Bill has managed to, unintentionally, complete the phenomenal task of uniting Thaksin’s haters, a group which has fragmented after the dissolution of the People’s Power Party. Whether or not this feat will accomplish anything remains to be seen. I won’t make any judgements and predictions here, however. Will more political violence and turmoil follow? Will the protests fail and scatter away? Will the grip of successive administrations de facto led by Thaksin finally be loosened? I don’t know.
I’ll just say this- let’s hope for the best.