The royalist and nationalist politicians and parties that lost the national elections in 2011 have returned to the streets of the capital in another attempt to overthrow the government by force. A year ago 12,000 royalist (“yellow shirt”) demonstrators assembled in the capital but were confronted by 17,000 police. The demonstration was considered a failure. Now the yellow shirts are on the streets in large numbers again, assembling about 100,000 people in the capital.
While some nationalist 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 most Thais are tired of it. 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 been losing a lot of the power and popular respect it long enjoyed. Most Thais want the military out of politics for good.
In 2011, the low-level civil war (90 dead and 2,000 wounded) that has been going on since 2005 ended, for a while anyway. The Royalists 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 royalists (also called the urban elite) had gained power via a coup in 2006, and held onto it using tainted elections.
The royalists are also on a mission to capture one man they consider most responsible for the decline of royalist and military power. For years the royalists have tried to capture and prosecute the populist (red shirt) leader, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The royalists and urban elites believed that the capture, trial, and imprisonment of Shinawatra might break the will of the populists or convince Shinawatra to switch sides.
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 Royalists believed that Shinawatra was financing the populist violence with this money. The royalists 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. 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 return of large scale political protests this year could reduce annual tourist income by up to 20 percent. Some countries are already warning their citizens to stay away from Thailand. The tourism industry accounts for five percent of Thai GDP, employing two million people, or seven percent of the workforce.
November 26, 2013: A court issued an arrest warrant for one of the leaders of the current royalist demonstrations.
November 25, 2013: The government declared an emergency in the capital after royalist demonstrators occupied some government buildings and urged the army to stage yet another coup. Declaring an emergency makes it easier for the police to shut down roads and control who gets into the capital. The police can also round up the usual suspects responsible for organizing the disruptive and illegal demonstrations.
November 24, 2013: Over 100,000 royalist demonstrators assembled in the capital calling for the populist government to resign.
November 21, 2013: In the south soldiers raided a pro-Islamic terrorist village and arrested seven suspects.
November 20, 2013: Five men, arrested recently as they prepared to smuggle 100 kg (220 pounds) of 99 percent pure North Korean methamphetamine to the United States (via Thailand), were extradited to the United States. Because of the U.S. connection, Thailand allowed extradition of the five (who are British, Filipino, Taiwanese, and Slovakian) to the United States for prosecution and, one presumes, intense interrogation. North Korea has long been a supplier of methamphetamine in the region. Last year some 227 million doses of methamphetamine, worth about $1.3 billion, were seized in the region. That’s a seven fold increase from 2008. Methamphetamine is the most popular drug in East and Southeast Asia. Most of the seized pills were taken in China (45 percent) and Thailand (42 percent), and most of it is coming from meth labs in northern Burma. It’s believed that Burmese meth labs produce about 1.4 billion doses (in pill form) of methamphetamines each year, which have a street value of over $8 billion. At least a quarter of that stays in the Burmese tribal territories where that kind of money has become a key component of the local economy. North Korea has long produced meth but noting the success of the tribal producers in Burma has increased production and distribution. The North Koreans are producing a purer and more powerful form of meth and expect to displace the lower quality Burmese stuff in some markets.
November 16, 2013: In the capital nationalist demonstrators protested an amnesty bill that would benefit royalists and populists prosecuted for crimes related to the 2005-11 political unrest.
November 15, 2013: In the south two policemen were killed by a roadside bomb. Elsewhere in the south three soldiers were wounded when their foot patrol encountered a roadside bomb.
November 11, 2013: The UN panel issued its ruling on the border dispute with Cambodia. The ruling largely favored Cambodia but there was enough in it for Thailand to prevent Thailand from denouncing the ruling. Civilians who had fled the area when it was announced that a ruling was coming have returned to their homes once it became known that both nations would accept the ruling. The disputed temple is in the southeast, due east of Bangkok and goes back a long time. The border dispute has been quiet for two years since the UN got both sides to let a UN panel sort it all out. The current border violence flared up in 2008, and led to hundreds of casualties. On both sides, particularly with the Thais, nationalism and unwillingness to appear "weak" in dealing with a border dispute had, for a long time, prevented the matter from getting resolved. The Thai armed forces are larger and more effective, but even Thai nationalists don't want a war with Cambodia. That would be too expensive in terms of lives, money, and bad publicity. Cambodia, which is very poor, and corrupt, compared to Thailand, knows it cannot defeat its mighty neighbor but does not want to just roll over in order to settle the dispute.