Understanding Thai Protests
New Orleans I have been fascinated in following the dramatic, tactical effectiveness of the Thai anti-governmental protest which was directed at the huge, new international airport and effectively took over the airport for days in the recent week. Planes were rerouted. More than 100,000 passengers were stranded. There was a stalemate with the police, the King, the military, and others about what to do with these yellow shirts. The economy of Thailand, which is heavily dependent on tourism (and this is interesting in itself and worth returning to for future conversation) was teetering from perhaps overheated news reports.
I found myself saying two things: (1) what an interesting tactic, and (2) am I rooting for the right tactic but the wrong side?
Recently on one Saturday afternoon, I spent a couple of great hours in Vancouver at the invitation of Jeff Fox, the organizing director of the British Columbia, being introduced to the pleasures of the Canadian Football League (CFL) rules and brand of play watching a divisional championship at the home of Mike Orders, a BCGEU staff rep, and a number of other BCGEU hands, who for good reasons shall remain nameless. Anyway, it was a good bit of fun, and while there I visited with Mike and his friend, Tereena Macie, about Thailand and Burman, both of which they visited regularly and were planning to see again at year end.
So rather than scratching the hair out of my head, once the yellow shirts declared “victory” and finally ended their occupation of the airport, I wrote Mike and said essentially, what’s going on, and why am I suddenly rooting for people who seem middle and upper class and with the monarchy? Mike to my surprise sent me the best and most comprehensive, 101 guide, to the politics of the country that I’ve seen, so I’m sharing it pretty much in full so that you will have a guide, just as I have in trying to puzzle out the politics and the future twists and turns in Thailand.
Here’s what Mike offered:
There are two factions in Thailand. The red shirts and the yellow
shirts, to over simplify.
The Yellow shirts are the Urban middle/upper class. Almost exclusively
from Bangkok and some from Chiang Mai. They have been an organizational
force for some time, and were instrumental in supporting the military
coup of Sept `06 when the then PM, Thaksin, was ousted while he was out
of the Country.
Thaksin’s party is corrupt, and after the democratic elections of
December 2007, his party won again, making Thaksin’s brother in-law, a
guy named Wongsawat the PM. This latest tiff by the yellow shirts was
about getting Wongsawat out.
The Red shirts are the urban poor and the farmers. Their support has
been for Thaksin’s party as the target of the party’s corruption has
been this demographic. The party has always given lots of things to the
farmers and the urban poor conditional, of course, on electoral success.
The party has never been shy about the process used in what has
effectively been vote buying. Since a majority of the parliamentary
seats are rural, this is clearly the best way to insure power in gov’t.
No one really disputes the existence of corruption in the electoral
process. If you get busted, you just get kicked out and try again. The
Constitutional court, in its ruling, found Thaksin’s party guilty of
corruption, disbanded the party and under their law, suspended the
"executive", aka; the cabinet, for 5 years. Two other parties were also
found guilty of corruption, but on less serious charges, and the same
fate was handed to their respective parties and "executives". The red
shirts are clearly not happy about this. The yellow shirts feel they won, so they left the airports.
Now Parliament has to a) select a new PM, and b) structure a new cabinet to govern. This will happen on December 8th. There is much intrigue in the capital as the elected MP’s have a tough decision to make. They know that if the go back to Thaksin’s now defunct party members, who still have a majority, to find their new PM, the yellow shirts will be back at the airports. But, they really don’t want to give that power up.
The leading general has already said that such tomfoolery, if it results in civil unrest again, will result in another coup. This time the generals won’t be so quick to relinquish power. Probably 3 to 5 years it will take before elections again. It should be appreciated that the military in Thailand plays a far different role in gov’t. They truly
play the role as the peacekeepers if the kids can’t play together in the sand box.
Since, I think, 1932, there have been 19 different coup attempts. Most
are bloodless and for short terms.
What is needed is electoral reform, a stricter election system. Problem
is that in a culture that has had many thousands of years where
corruption is a way of life, western democracy advances slowly. That
said, those that truly want no corruption in the electoral system are
running out of patience for the slow process of electoral evolution.
Tereena and I are headed over there… My Thai friends have written and their advice was simple. "Come on over, we look forward to seeing you. Just make sure you don’t pack any red or yellow shirts, and don’t buy any".
There is a saying in Thailand – "mai pen rai" – that is found in many
languages, but in Thailand it goes to the Buddhist side of the culture
in that things will always work out the way they are supposed to so just accept it and go with it. Kind of a Buddhist way of saying "whatever" or "no worries". That philosophy always gets them through events like these.
The two best places to get info on this including good political editorials and insight are the two English newspapers in Bangkok, The Bangkok Post and The Nation. http://www.bangkokpost.com/http://www.nationmultimedia.com/It is very interesting to watch.
Yeah, Mike, but like Canadian football — or even Canadian politics now — it’s a lot more interesting when you know what’s going on.
Understanding Thai Protests