by Scott Coates
Since 1932 there have been 18 coups in Thailand. They happen almost as often as fashion changes. It’s truly part of the social fabric.
The last coup was in September 2006, to oust the democratically elected (the first majority in Thai history) Thai Rak Thai government, led by one of the kingdom’s wealthiest citizens, Taksin Shinawatra. He was out of the country at the time, stayed in exile for a while, came back for a bit, then left and didn’t return shortly before the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Since that time he has been moving around the globe: Dubai, England, Montenegro and a number of African nations. The Thai government sentenced him in absentia to two years in prison and seized about $US 2 Billion on corruption and abuse of power charges during his time as Prime Minister. Whether these charges are legit or the court cases were fair and balanced we’ll leave to another blog.
Fast forward to April 2010 and little has changed politically since the 2006 coup. There was a military government for a bit over a year, elections which saw a proxy government of the exiled prime minister led by his brother-in-law take power, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who wear the King’s color of yellow (hence their being called the Yellow Shirts) took over Bangkok’s airports in November 2008 in protest of this government, the prime minister was sacked by the Election Commission (content for another blog), another proxy Prime Minister (Mr. Samak) was appointed and shortly thereafter sacked by the Election Commission for hosting a cooking show.
What followed was a bit of magic, the Democrat Party which is traditionally
aligned with the ruling elite, pieced together a coalition to form a majority and took power with England-educated, Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva becoming Prime Minister. Also during this period a group calling itself the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) formed, aligned themselves with Taksin Shinawatra and his followers and started wearing red shirts.
Red shirts vs. Yellow Shirts
The last couple years have seen these two groups (Yellow=old wealth/power, Red=new wealth/power and the poor) stage various rallies/protests and push for their own agendas. With the Democrats and their alliance holding power for more than a year and showing no sign of dissolving government and calling for fresh elections, the Reds have gone on the offensive, staging rallies in/around Bangkok since March 14, 2010. Their main demand is a complete dissolution of the government and fresh elections, which would surely see Taksin’s friends get elected. Most people agree the 1997 constitution needs to be amended, but in which ways depends greatly on what side you ask. In late March the government and Red shirt leaders met for two days of talks which went nowhere. The government offered to dissolve within nine months, while the Reds stuck to their demand of 15 days – no exceptions. The government wants to achieve a couple things before any dissolution, namely revising the constitution and appointing the next head of the Armed Forces as the current one is due to retire about August (he’s unofficially aligned with the Yellows).
On Sunday, April 3, 2010 the Reds staged a protest in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district along Rachaphrasong Road. Crowds of up to 50,000 occupied the streets from Paragon Shopping Center down to Chidlom Skytrain station and over to the Pratunam area. The city’s largest shopping
centers closed on Saturday/Sunday and are still closed today (April 5). The Reds have been ordered by the government to leave and say they’re not going anywhere. Where things will go from here no one knows. What was very interesting to note yesterday was the complete absence of alcohol, very friendly protesters (who even offered me food/water) and classic smiling Thai faces. I felt entirely safe the whole time, the Skytrain rapid system is operating as normal and all Smiling Albino adventures are going as scheduled. In fact, without going right to a protest site, you could spend weeks here without knowing there was anything out of the ordinary going on.
Lets hope the smiles don’t disappear. Stay tuned…