Thailand rang in its New Year to the sounds of protest, as thousands of troops fired warning shots and tear gas at anti-government protesters.
The four days of protests ended Tuesday and several demonstrators surrendered to security forces. The protesters, called “Red Shirts,” support former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and want his successor, Abhisit Vejjajiva, out.
John Brandon is The Asia Foundation’s director for international relations programs. He discusses what is in store for Thailand, stating that with competing groups still vying for power, the new year may bring little relief to the country.
Thailand: Skip the New Year and go straight to the hangover
This is normally a time of celebration in Thailand. This week is Thailand’s New Year, known as “Songkran.” The holiday falls during the hottest time of the year, where people celebrate the spiritual aspects of water and renewal, but it is also a time to visit family and friends. Some people make New Year resolutions, such as doing good deeds or refraining from bad behavior. Unfortunately for Thailand, the supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra and the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship (DAAD), also known as the “red shirts,” elected to do neither.
On April 11 thousands of red-shirted protesters broke through a wall of riot police and soldiers and entered the Royal Cliff Hotel on Pattaya Beach, where Thailand was serving as host of the East Asia Summit: a 16-member association that includes the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand. The summit’s agenda was to address the global financial crisis, China and ASEAN were to sign an investment pact, and China, Japan, and South Korea were to brief the other members on North Korea’s recent missile test. Instead, protesters wreaked such havoc that the East Asia Summit was unceremoniously cut short. […]
Although order has been restored, and the protests have ended for now, deep divisions that exist in Thai society remain. The country is at a difficult impasse. Thaksin’s “red shirts” want nothing less than to bring down the Abhisit government. They believe the government led by Abhisit has no legitimacy because of how it came to power. This is not correct. During the blockade of Bangkok’s international airport last November, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that the People’s Power Party (PPP) was guilty of electoral fraud. Because of the political stalemate, a faction of the PPP jumped ship and gave its support to the Democrat Party, which enabled Abhisit to become prime minister without calling for elections.
Conversely, if the “red shirts” were to be successful in bringing down Abhisit, and a government loyal to Thaksin was to come to power, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) — the “yellow shirts” — would revive their mass protest movement. The PAD believes Thaksin and his supporters are illegitimate, due to their governments’ election irregularities, abuse of power, and corruption. As each side views the other as illegitimate, mob protests have only served to exacerbate the division in Thailand’s body politic. Except for the possibility of Thailand’s revered King Bhumipol Adulyadej, it is unclear what person in Thailand can bridge these divisions and promote reconciliation.
Events of the past week show that there are no winners in Thailand. Tourism remains in the doldrums as events continue to damage the country’s attractiveness as a tourist destination. Thirty percent of the country’s air traffic that was rerouted as a consequence of the November airport closures has not returned. Many of these flights have elected now to operate from Singapore, Malaysia, or Hong Kong. Exports have dropped by 25 percent. Even before the most recent round of protests, the World Bank predicted that Thailand’s GDP will drop by 2.7 percent in 2009. Growth may decline further as a result of the recent chaos.[…]
There appears to be a strong misconception in Thailand these days that democracy equals intimidation.
To read more, see the original post.
The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.