Thailand is quickly crumbling under the weight of social and political unrest. It is a country that has struggled to find an appropriate government since the Monarchy was politically reformed in 1932. Since that time, the country has had 17 constitutions and charters. The form of government has ranged from military dictatorships to electoral democracy. The country began its first true experiment with democracy in 1997 with the first constitution drafted by a popularly-elected Constitutional Drafting Assembly.
The last coup in Thailand was in September 2006. It was accomplished with nary a shot being fired, and had the backing of the King. The primary purpose was to oust then Prime Minister Thaksin Shiniwatra, who at the time was out of the country. Ex-pats living in Thailand quietly supported the coup, though it was soundly condemned by the United States as being an affront to Democracy. Walking through Bangkok a few days after the coup, there were few signs that there had even been a coup. Life was going on as though nothing had happened.
There is scant evidence to indicate that Thaksin was not corrupt. Today, he is a fugitive from justice, having been convicted of corruption in absentia. He claims that he can't get a fair trial in Thailand. His conviction came about despite failed attempts to bribe judges hearing his case. Despite Thaksin propensity to reap excessive profits while in government, he will no doubt go down in history as having a philantropic nature. The poor in Thailand, especially in the northeast Issan (also called Isarn) region benefited greatly from Thaksin's policies. As a result, he became a hero to the poor.
There can be little doubt that Thaksin still has an influence in the country. Despite being deposed, his brother in law is now the Prime Minister. Many of his cronies are still in power.
The group of people who are holding Bangkok hostage by occupying the captial city's airports are known as PAD - People's Alliance for Democracy. PAD claims to be for 'clean politics', promoting justice, civil society and good governance, while fighting against corruption among politicians and civil servants. They also claim to support the constitutional monarchy and oppose those who they view as wanting to alter the monarch's status.
In many ways, those who support PAD are like US Republicans. They are middle class and above. They are the eliete of Thailand. They are from the south of the country. The PAD are, hardline monetarists. They propose interest rate hikes, cutting down spending on the poor, "mega-projects", and squeezing wages. They also posit that the poor in northern Thailand are not sophisticated enough to vote intelligently, and basically, shouldn't be allowed to choose their own representatives.
PAD's desire to rid the political system of Thaksin supporters would be beneficial to the entire country. To rid the government of corruption is also admirable. However, PAD seemingly wants too much control and to disenfranchise others and create two distinct different classes is reprehensible.
No matter what happens in the current crisis, Thailand's future is very much up in the air and subject to much speculation. The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej is much revered by everyone in the country. He will be 81 years old on December 5th, and is reportedly in poor health.
There are two possible heirs to the throne. One his the only son, Prince Vajiralongkorn, and the otther is his eldest daughter, Princess Sirindhorn. The King could appoint the Princess as the next monarch of Thailand. In the event he does not, the role would fall to the Prince.
The Prince is widely seen to be a liabiity to Thailand, though discussions of this are quietly held. The Princess has been much more visible and is widely seen to be much more like her father than her brother is. There is speculation that the Prince aligns himself more with the ideology of PAD than his sister does. The public basically has little knowledge of the Prince's actual ideology as he is rarely seen in public.
The Thailand that people once knew may be disappearing. Regardless of the political situation, there is little doubt that it will affect the Buddhist influence that is prevalent in the country. Throughout history, the Buddhist influence has been much stronger than politics. Despite this, two separate classes of people which PAD is advocating will only serve to keep the country in turmoil.
PAD needs to be evicted from the two airports in Bangkok, and its organizers need to be prosecuted. New elections then need to be called in the country with strict limitations on what the candidates can and cannot do. The nation must live with its decisions until the next election cycle. That it what democracies do.
*** The Old Codger previously lived in Thailand for five years. He lived in the Issan area, the poorest area of the country. He has a deep respect for the Thai people and all that the King has done for the country. Typically he does not criticize other countries, but does now due to his ties to Thailand.