Thailand: Bangkok Dangerous


January 19, 2014: The royalist and nationalist politicians and parties (yellow shirts) that lost the national elections in 2011 have spent the last seven weeks on the streets trying to overthrow the government by force. A year ago 12,000 royalist (yellow shirt) demonstrators assembled in the capital (Bangkok), but were confronted by 17,000 police. The demonstration was considered a failure. Since November 24 th the yellow shirts have been on the streets in large numbers again, assembling up to 160,000 people in the capital. But after all that only a few thousand yellow shirt demonstrators were left by late December

Protest leaders then came up with a new plan to get more people to come out and continue the unrest. Promises were made that success was assured. That was necessary because many of the middle-class yellow shirt supporters were getting discouraged, especially because of how the demonstrations were hurting the economy and the quality of life in Bangkok (a largely yellow shirt place.) The new scheme involved bringing in enough protestors to shut down the capital for up to a month, or until the elected government resigned and allowed the minority parties to appoint one to their liking. This massive and sustained protest is meant to halt the February elections the beleaguered prime minister has called.

The protestors know they do not represent a majority of voters and don’t want to be reminded of that by another election. The protestors have most of their supporters in central Thailand and especially the capital. In most of the country the protestors are seen as a political minority trying to overthrow a majority government. With that in mind the government has discouraged its supporters from coming to the capital for counter-demonstrations. The police have orders to avoid violent confrontations. Bangkok is huge, with 12 million people and the protestors have provided great photo ops but have not yet seriously disrupted the city. The government is trying to negotiate with the protestors, but has refused demands to resign or that elections be delayed a year. This second surge of protests has left at least eight dead and several hundred wounded. Some 20,000 police are deployed near the protests and 15,000 soldiers are on alert, most of them away from the city center where most of the protests are. Companies of soldiers have been seen deployed around government ministries.

While some yellow shirt politicians still believe military takeovers are still a viable option, most do not. The 2011 elections had done more than just remove yet another military government. Those elections made it clear that the trend was clearly against such takeovers. There have been ten such military governments in the last four decades and 18 coups or attempts since 1932. Most Thais are tired of it and have demanded reforms to curb the ability of the military to take over. Trimming the power and influence of the military has not been easy, and despite the possibility of triggering yet another military takeover “for the good of the country” the military has concluded that they have been losing a lot of the power and popular respect it long enjoyed. Most Thais want the military out of politics for good. This time around the military has refused to take sides and has largely remained neutral. This was mainly because the generals have realized that many of their troops are hostile to the anti-democratic yellow shirts and more military intervention might tear the military apart.  

The government relied on police, persuasion and new elections to deal with the unrest. This may not be sufficient as the royalists demand at least a year of dictatorship to deal with the corruption they see as the heart of the problem. The NACC (National Anti-Corruption Commission) is dominated by yellow shirts and is, not surprisingly, calling for investigations of many government officials, and not so many yellow shirt ones. The yellow shirt alliance has always contained a lot of reformers, who have concluded that democracy cannot cure corruption in Thailand and only the yellow shirt coalition of royalists, nationalists and reformers is capable of getting it done, despite the fact that this coalition does not have the votes to gain control of the government. Without the assistance of the military the yellow shirts seem headed for failure again. The use of large demonstrations to disrupt the government and the economy cannot go on indefinitely without violent resistance from the many people impoverished and displaced by these tactics.

All this popular unrest in the capital is a revival of a dispute that appeared to end in 2011 after a low-level civil war (90 dead and 2,000 wounded) that has been going on since 2005. The yellow shirts acknowledged that the majority of Thais did not support them and agreed to abide by the results of the July 2011 election that put a red shirt party into power. The yellow shirts had gained power via a coup in 2006, and held onto it using tainted elections. The yellow shirts are also on a mission to capture one man they consider most responsible for the debasement of Thai politics and the decline of royalist and military power. For years the yellow shirts have tried to capture and prosecute the populist (red shirt) leader, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The yellow shirts believed that the capture, trial and imprisonment of Shinawatra might break the will of the populists, or convince Shinawatra to switch sides. Then things got worse. Last November the prime minister proposed an amnesty law for the many people on both sides who are vulnerable to prosecution for acts committed during the 2005-2011 unrest. The yellow shirts were enraged because they believed this was simply a ploy to gain amnesty for former Thaksin Shinawatra, who could then return to political power in Thailand. That persuaded many yellow shirts to look for another solution.

Thaksin Shinawatra has been in exile since 2008. In 2010 the courts moved to seize half of Shinawatra's fortune ($1.4 billion) as a fine for being corrupt. This was an unpopular move, since nearly all Thai politicians are corrupt and people wondered who was going to get the $1.4 billion. The red shirts threatened violence over the seizure, although Shinawatra, from exile in Dubai, urged calm and only non-violent demonstrations. Many yellow shirts believed that Shinawatra was financing the populist violence with this money. The yellow shirts have contempt for the poor and less educated red shirts, and this is returned with resentment and growing anger towards the wealthier and better educated urban population that opposes majority rule. This anger was not diminished by the military government use of force against those demonstrating for fair elections and a restoration of democracy before 2011. Such class warfare is nothing new. There were similar outbreaks in the 1970s and 1990s. But the current one is more widespread and having more of a negative impact on the economy.

The peace talks with the southern separatists are on hold until after the February 2nd elections.

January 18, 2014: In the capital grenades were thrown at two groups of anti-government protestors, leaving at least 38 wounded. Since the protests began in early November, nine people have died and hundreds have been wounded.

Kuwait and Oman warned their citizens to avoid Thailand, especially the capital, unless it was very important.

January 17, 2014: In the capital an anti-government protestor died and 27 more wounded when someone threw a grenade into the group.

January 15, 2014: The yellow shirt protest leader in the capital has called on his followers to capture the prime minister and shot down the government in order to force the elected government to resign.

January 14, 2014: In the capital massive demonstrations began in an attempt by minority political parties to take over the government and disrupt February 2nd elections.

In the south a roadside bomb killed two policemen and wounded another.

January 11, 2014:  In the capital there were two incidents where gunmen opened fire on anti-government protestors, wounding seven of them.

January 8, 2014: The UAE (United Arab Emirates) has warned its citizens to avoid Thailand, especially the capital, unless it is very important.

January 3, 2014: In neighboring Cambodia three were killed in the capital during a large protest by garment workers demanding higher pay.

January 2, 2014: Violence in south increased last year. Security forces suffered 129 dead, up from 60 in 2012. Islamic terrorists suffered 51 killed, versus 28 in 2012. In the last decade 5,926 have died in the separatist violence down south. Most (58 percent) of the dead were Moslem. However most of the 10,593 wounded were Buddhists.

December 31, 2013: In the south Islamic terrorists ambushed a truck and shot dead five civilians.

December 30, 2013: In the capital about five hundred police and families of policemen held a demonstration to protest the increasing violence of the anti-government protestors.

December 28, 2013: In the capital an anti-government protestor was shot dead and four more wounded.

December 27, 2013: The head of the army declined to rule out the possibility of another military takeover if the differences between the political parties could not be settled peacefully and the massive demonstrations in the capital halted. Later the army leaders insisted this was not a threat of another coup.

December 26, 2013: In the capital an anti-government protest outside a voter registration site turned violent and two protestors were killed and over 40 wounded.

December 23, 2013: On the Thai resort island of Phuket police found a bomb in a truck parked near a police station. In the last decade the Islamic terrorists have kept their violence confined to the three majority Moslem provinces south of the tourist areas near Phuket.

December 22, 2013: In the south three bombs went off near the Malaysian border wounding 27 people. One bomb was in a car and two in motorcycles. One was outside a hotel and two outside police stations.

In the capital over 20,000 anti-government demonstrators marched trying to force the government to resign.

December 21, 2013: The yellow shirt opposition parties announced they would boycott the February elections.





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