I want to begin this post by reminding my readers that all of my posts are entirely my own thoughts and opinions, and in no way represent the opinion of my employers, school, or any other sponsoring agency.
For the past five or six weeks, Bangkok and Thailand as a whole has been in a state of political upheaval. The issues surrounding these current events are immensely complicated, but I feel that it is not very often that one lives through such events and I’d like to comment on them if you, dear reader, would indulge me. The information I present here describes these events and issues as I understand them, though I would give a word or two of caution that due to the complexity and corruption surrounding all of this that my findings may not necessarily be entirely accurate. This is beginning to sound like the intro to an academic paper…
Thailand has a rich history of being ruled as a monarchy, and to this day maintains a king and royal family who are beloved by a vast majority of Thais. The current king, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on December 5th, 1927, and assumed the throne in 1946. He is considered a semi-deity in the Thai conscience, and is the world’s longest ruling monarch. Unfortunately, the king’s health has been declining in the last few years, and since September of last year, he has been living full time at a hospital in Bangkok. His passing will be a major loss to the country, especially since his son and heir to the throne is not nearly as popular as the current King.
In our more recent era, a government rules alongside the monarchy, composed of a House of elected representatives and a prime minister. The King still holds sway and much influence, but is more of a spiritual and figurehead leader than an actual decision maker (think modern day Britain). The current government was put into power a few years ago by a military coup, during which the now ex-prime minister Thaksin was removed from power and imposed exile on himself. All of this occurred due to some pretty serious corruption in Thaksin’s government (theoretically). Thaksin has since been found guilty of some kind of money scamming deal that essentially claims he used his position of authority to make himself some big bucks (or baht, as the case may be). Currently, he has been banned from most countries in the world, exceptions being made by countries like Monte Negro and other places of that repute.
While prime minister, Thaksin was a champion of the poor and impoverished and established many social welfare programs that benefited those finding themselves at the bottom end of the class system. Because of these programs, Thaksin continues to have a huge following of Thais, mostly from poor and rural parts of the country. They call themselves the “Red Shirts”, and for the past five or six weeks have been staging huge protests in Bangkok and other parts of the country. In a nutshell, they are asking for the current prime minister and government to step down and have a fresh batch of elections. I think there may have initially been some intent to bring Thaksin back to power, but following his conviction and plummeting popularity amongst everyone but the Red Shirts, it appears that he is now more of a driving force than a conclusion to this contentious issue.
As one might imagine, the current government isn’t too thrilled about being challenged, nor having Bangkok being held financially and logistically hostage by the protestors. They’ve declined most of the demands made by the Red Shirts, and are attempting peaceful talks. Supporting the current government are the “Yellow Shirts”, who are fiercely loyal to the current King and support the current government. In the past, this group has been a little more radical than the generally poorly educated and financially strapped Red Shirts. They represent the middle and upper classes, and during the last government overthrow, they staged a massive sit-in at Bangkok’s largest airport and shut it down for a week. In the past week, they’ve reassembled themselves (they’d been dormant since the last coup) and are demanding that the either the government regains control over the Red Shirt situation, or the Yellow Shirts will do it for them.
The current conflict has turned violent since April 10th (more about my experience with that date later), and thus far there have been 26 deaths and over 800 injuries. As of this post, violence seems to be erupting again in the city’s center, but I haven’t heard any confirmed reports of what’s happening. Needless to say, it isn’t safe to go to some parts of the city, and traffic congestion is worse than ever throughout Bangkok (keep in mind that Bangkok is known as the world’s worst-planned city, and so traffic is generally horrendous all the time).
Sadly, popular opinion seems to be that this situation will not be resolved without some kind of major clash or conflict. I believe this is partly through the Thai custom of saving face. No party wants to back down and embarrass themselves, while it is also distasteful for the elite to attack the poor. In this case, I am predicting that a small minority of fringe Red Shirts (some of whom are armed and presumably dangerous) will take things a little too far and attack the military. In self defense, they will retaliate, and things will escalate from there. I mean for this to be a mostly informative post, so I will save my own commentary for a different post.
Regardless, this is a huge, complicated, and potentially deadly situation. It has escalated enough thus far to draw attention from other countries (including the United States), and I can only hope that all parties involved advocate and work toward peace rather than chaos.