Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thailand People's Protest Affect Americans

As I write this there is a rebellion going on in Bangkok. I do not claim to understand all of the issues involved, but a Thai faction is protesting and holding Americans (as well as other tourist)hostage, well sort of, they have taken over Bangkok's major airport and will not let them leave. This public dissatisfaction has been going on for a couple of years. As I understand it this ongoing coup was started to get the previous Prime Minister, Thaksin to step down for various reasons including allegations of corruption. BTW, Thaksin is a billionaire making his riches in communications, banking, transport and real estate.

In 2006, the Thai Army overthrew the government of Thaksin Shinawatra and soon afterwards King Bhumibol Adulyadej appointed Surayud Chulanont as Prime Minister until democratic elections could be held. In 2008, Chulanont was succeeded by Samak Sundaravej who filled the post for 8 months amid public street protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The PAD consists of middle and upper-class Bangkokians and Southerners, supported by the conservative elite and factions of the Thai Army, some leaders of Democrat Party, and leaders of state-enterprise labor unions.

On September 9th, Sundaravej was disqualified from premiership due to complaints lodged by the Senators and the Election Commission of Thailand. However, the People Power Party (PPP) vowed to vote him back to the premiership. Despite objections from its coalition partners, the PPP, in an urgent meeting, unanimously decided to renominate Samak Sundaravej. Ultimately, the Issan faction of the PPP and the coalition parties boycotted the vote. The boycott was a sign of Samak's disapproval from both his own party's members and coalition parties. Finally Samak gave up his re-election bid, allowing his party to choose new nominee. The majority of his party and coalitions eventually voted for Somchai Wongsawat, deputy prime minister, to be the new premier. Somchai Wongsawat was elected as Prime Minister in September 2008.

This brings us to what is happening in Bangkok currently. On October 7, 2008, protesters attempted to hold 320 parliamentarians and senators hostage inside the Parliament building, cutting off power, and forcing Somchai Wongsawat to escape by jumping a back fence after his policy address. But other trapped legislators failed to leave and flee from the demonstration. The 6-week sit-in and siege on the area beside the near prime minister’s office forced the government to transfer its activities to the former international airport. One female protester was killed after police use force to push back the demonstration and hundreds were injured.

In November, PAD forces blockaded Parliament prior to a crucial legislative session, used hijacked public buses to take control of the government's provisional offices at the former international airport. They have now seized the passenger terminal and control tower of Suvarnabhumi International Airport, forcing the airport to cancel all flights.

The PAD has called for the resignation of the governments of Thaksin Shinawatra, as well as Somchai Wongsawat, whom the PAD accused of being a proxy for Thaksin. The PAD refused to stop its protests, noting that Somchai is Thaksin's brother-in-law; thus, claiming failure of popular democracy in Thailand. The PAD has wants constitutional amendments making Parliament a largely royally-appointed body. The PAD is largely composed of royalist, and has regularly invoked the King in its protests, and has claimed that its enemies are disloyal to the monarchy. It has openly called for the military and Thailand's traditional elite to take a greater role in politics.

To make matters worse, a rival pro-government group, the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD) said the movement would consider any retreat by the government to be a military coup, and immediately launch a counter street offensive against the army, raising the prospect of clashes.

If you read this entire post, you may be wondering why I wrote it. The reason I try to keep up with the political as well as economical landscape of Thailand is that my wife is a Thai citizen and I have considered retiring in Thailand. Now, I am not sure. The Thai government has been unstable for a while but before this Americans were not really affected. I can only wait and see.

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