If you have noticed Thailand in the news, it is probably because of the current political impasse. This post today will give you a glimpse of life here during these times. For those who have expressed concern about our safety, please know that we are fine and living in northern Thailand where we are working on upcoming Small Footprint Travels tours; life continues normally here.
As a former photojournalist, I like to follow the news online, read the Bangkok Post newspaper, and try to keep abreast of the fluid and changing scene in Bangkok. The protests are occurring mainly in Bangkok. Most of the rest of the country continues life peacefully.
This political dispute has been simmering for a number of years here. There are essentially two sides, two divisive groups—sounds like the US political scene—which are known by their colors.
The yellows (pictured above in Bangkok) are the opposition party. They want the current government to resign, hand over power to a vaguely thought out “People’s Council” which would run the country. (What makes the color system of identification confusing is that yellow is the royal color for the King of Thailand, a highly revered figure who at 86 suffers from ill health.)
The reds are the people who support the current government of lady Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Her older brother, billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, was the prime minister of Thailand until he was overthrown in a coup in 2006. He fled the country to avoid a 2-year jail sentence and currently stays involved in Thai politics from his residence in Dubai. Many feel that his sister is simply the proxy prime minister for him.
This current crisis was prompted in November when the government tried to push through the parliament a blanket amnesty bill for all people involved with the riots and mayhem from the street fighting (and deaths) since 2010. This amnesty, if passed, would have allowed older brother Thaksin to void his conviction and prison term.
The backlash from this attempted amnesty is what led to the current crisis. The amnesty bill was dropped, but the momentum continued and escalated in calls by the opposition for the “corrupt” current administration to step down. Instead, Yingluck disbanded parliament and called for early elections on Sunday, February 2.
This did not satisfy the opposition, the yellows, as they know they will undoubtedly lose any election. The reds have won every election since 2001; indeed the reds are strongly supported in the north and northeastern parts of the country. These are the poorer regions and the people there remain loyal to the government, which initiated universal health coverage and cheap loans a few years ago.
What will happen? That is anyone’s guess at this point. The yellows do not want the election to proceed and have promised to disrupt the voting on Sunday. Indeed, they did just that at polling locations the early voting last week. Several hundred thousand were unable to cast their ballots. They are calling for their supporters to picnic around polling stations to make it difficult to voters to reach the ballot boxes.
Perhaps a coup? The army has remained on the sidelines wishing to be neutral and uninvolved. Like Bolivia, another country I have called home, Thailand does have a history of army coups dating back to 1932. Bolivia tops Thailand in this department, as there have been more than 160 different governments in Bolivia over the last 120 years!
If the army does stage a coup and take control, this will be a victory for the opposition party, the political pundits say. It will end the reign (for now) of the “corrupt” Thaksin family. However there is a fierce loyalty to Thaksin. The country is polarized and there is no apparent common ground.
Meanwhile, violence has escalated in Bangkok. The violence has been restricted to the demonstration sites and between the yellow and red parties. Some explosions and 10 people have been killed since the crisis began in November. I hope that the cycle of violence does not escalate. If it does, my guess is that the army will step in. The current political crisis here is the worst that any Thais can remember.
The final surreal touch is that in the rest of the country it seems like nothing out of the ordinary is happening.
We have been in Chiang Mai recently and now Chiang Rai, both located in northern Thailand. Life is calm here and continues on its peaceful pace. We are not at risk and continue to research our upcoming Southeast Asia Travel Tours and International Food Travel with Small Footprint Travels.