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Thailand is no longer synonymous again with simply being a tourist's "playground." Political protests have become increasingly a part of the scenery in recent years.

It is a similar scenario as with other "Third World" nations: An overall class struggle pitting the elite/upper-middle class against the lower-middle class/working class/peasants/poor. Too few against too many because too few have too much at the expense of too many who have too little.

Specifically, the political "players" in the struggle for Thailand are the following: the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), known as Red Shirts; the Democrat Party, known as Yellow shirts; the Monarchy of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (actually, a sideline "player," but still looked to for decision-making); the military; the police; the political leadership; and foreign interference.

The spark that lit the "flame" for the latest protests in recent Thai history occurred in 2006, when a military coup overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Since 2008, Thaksin has been in exile, living in Dubai.[1] Thaksin has made a career out of being a tycoon, and has been accused of corruption while prime minister of Thailand. He's also been called a royalist.[2] This seems contradictory, given that he implemented actual political and economic reforms as prime minister that benefitted the common people; and in turn contradicted the class interests of the monarchy/elite.

Thaksin is a huge "piece" in a chaotic puzzle. He is supported by the UDD for his reforms.

The UDD states in its Six Principles that the King would be the head of state if the UDD succeeds in its number one objective: "To attain true democracy with sovereignty in the hands of the people of Thailand."[3] But true democracy wouldn't include monarchial power within its nature. At this current stage, however, most Thais habitually favor the King.

King Bhumibol has become an emperor with no clothes. He has been seen as unreliable in his role as a monarch, reflecting the behavior of other monarchs in the feudal past where absolute power tends to keep royalty out of touch with reality. And the elite and military have played significant roles relating to the King's actions or inactions.[4]

The latest protests have resulted from a proposed amnesty law which the Yellow Shirts-led by the conservative Democrat Party[5]-condemn because it would provide an opportunity for Thaksin to return to Thailand. Ironically, Red Shirts have also opposed the law because it would mean granting amnesty to military leaders involved with the killing of other Red Shirt members in the bloody crackdown of the 2010 protests.

In the middle of all this now is Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister. Yingluck and the ruling Puea Thai Party have tried to propose a plan where the Thai Senate would be fully elected, rather than maintaining the current status of the senate where 73 of the 150 senators-almost 50%-are appointed.[6] Yellow Shirts also oppose her because this plan would threaten the conservatives' power. And Red Shirts have criticized her for not yet reforming lese-majeste, where it is a crime to insult the royal family.[7]

It all comes back to Thaksin Shinawatra. His influence has won the support of the common people. While in power, Thaksin's social reforms included universal healthcare and suspending farmers' debts.[8] For that, and the allegations of corruption, he has "won" the enmity of the elite and bourgeoisie.

 Once known as an "Asian Tiger" because of its impressive economic output in the early 1990s, Thailand became a "basketcase"-along with other nations-in the late 1990s fueled by imposed policies of international financial entities like the International Monetary Fund. It was Thaksin who put a stop to it. But, the characteristic "Third World" military coup took place in 2006.

Thailand has shown the latest example of what happens when class lines are widely drawn, i.e, the few have too much at the expense of the many who wind up having too little. As long as this continues, protests from the common masses will inevitably continue.

© 2013 David Starr

References:

[1]  T.J., "Bubbling Over." The Economist, 11/26/2013. www.economist.com

[2] Ji Ungpakorn, Giles, "Thailand: Behind the latest Reactionary 'Yellow Shirt' Protest." LINKS: international journal of socialist renewal. http://links.org.au, 11/24/2013

[3] http://thairedshirts.org, "The Six Principles."

[4] Ji Ungpakorn, Giles, "Thailand: Behind the latest Reactionary 'Yellow Shirt' Protest." LINKS: international journal of socialist renewal. http://links.org, 11/24/2013

[5] http://thairedshirts.org, "Our History."

[6] http://www.abcnews.net.au, "Bangkok Tense as 100,000 Protesters Rally..." 11/25/2013

[7] http://www.aljazeera.com, "Thai Red Shirts Stage Mass Protests." 06/25/2012

[8] Bello, Walden, "The Battle for Thailand." 06/02/2010. http://www.counterpunch.org

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well, just to start out, (6+ / 0-)

    there are no entirely good guys among the major players in Thailand.  The only really good guys tend to be students who demonstrate for democracy only to be mowed down by the dozens for doing so.

    Otherwise you have a very paternalistic King who hates politicians of all stripes for being corrupt, and routinely supports the military despite its own corruption.  Despite his enormous wealth, the King himself does not seem to be corrupt, especially to the degree he manages his wealth as a series of foundations, but of course there's no independent auditing.  The King deeply mistrusts democracy in the Western sense, and has done little to nurture democratic institutions.  He's also 86 years old and doesn't seem to be active any longer, even behind the scenes.  I doubt the same can be said for his privy council

    Thaksin is enormously popular outside the Bangkok elites and, despite his spectacular corruption, has made serious contributions to public works projects and social welfare.  (Traditionally, it would be the King who initiated these, not the government, which, depending on its leadership at the time, may or may not have had any interest in such matters.)  Here, too, however, one can apply H.C. Andersen metaphors, as -- to refer to one of your examples -- the 30-baht health care system was underfunded and often resulted in inadequate treatment.  Oh, and Thaksin's support of the monarchy subsists entirely in under-the-table payments (not just in money) to the Crown Prince, whom otherwise just about nobody in Thailand likes or trusts, in the hopes of winning royal favor after the anticipated battle for succession.

    This much said, one has to accede to your general point: if democracy is to be given a chance in Thailand, then the Thaksin movement, which represents an obvious majority of the people, has to be granted its political rights  In a way Thailand -- and Thaksin's own movement -- is best served by his exile, because his sister Yingluck at least understands tact and decorum, thus ensuring at very least her own political survival, as well as, in the short term at least, the survival of what counts for Thai democracy.

    Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

    by corvo on Sat Dec 07, 2013 at 01:59:40 PM PST

    •  But it is a good example of a stark difference (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      corvo, mookins, koNko

      between rich and poor.  The poor in Thailand are very poor and, as a result, their children work at an early age while the rich kids finish school and go to University.  

      Meanwhile, almost everyone loves the King - although he didn't celebrate his birthday in Bangkok this year because of the protests.

      The constant protests there have become an embarrassment for many Thais but at least people are giving voice to their beliefs.  And it can be dangerous to protest there.  

      •  Oh, no kidding. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SpecialKinFlag, mookins, koNko

        And I can't blame the poor for supporting someone like Thaksin, who at least does something for them and means something to them, ditto the King, of course.  (They love Sirindhorn . . . if only she could be Queen . . .)

        Might have been the protests that kept the King away from the birthday festivities; might have just been his health.  He wasted no time getting away to Klaikangwol after spending several years holed up in Siriraj Hospital, and who knows how often or even whether he'll reemerge.

        Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

        by corvo on Sat Dec 07, 2013 at 03:40:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks. It's funny how people tend to frame (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      corvo

      political debates in another countries in the terms they prefer.

    •  Are you suggesting the Thaksin movement (0+ / 0-)

      Has somehow been denied their rights?

      Please elaborate the details.

      The divide is more urban vs rural than poor vs elite (who Thaksin actually represents).

      If anyone has been denied rights, it is the demonstrators who have been beaten or killed exercising their rights.

  •  This is misleading (0+ / 0-)
    It all comes back to Thaksin Shinawatra. His influence has won the support of the common people. While in power, Thaksin's social reforms included universal healthcare and suspending farmers' debts.[8] For that, and the allegations of corruption, he has "won" the enmity of the elite and bourgeoisie.
    The "class struggle" divide is not over liberal or conservative or rich verses poor, but rather the interests of urban verses rural.

    Thaksin, who actually represents the interests of the wealthy, rather cleverly consolidated power by making big promises to the rural poor who out-number urban poor and middle classes, but failed to actually deliver reforms that benefit either.

    And his proxy-sister has continued this.

    Demonstrations are the exercise of freedom of speech and assembly, something Thaksins are not that keen on. Fortunately, this time around she got the idea it would not be good to use her army to beat and kill demonstrators into submission, which is a small improvement.

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