Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bangkok (Really) Dangerous

The Thais still don't know what they really want. Three years on and they are still at it. As neighbours, we need to keep watch on why they are still at it. The King is still not interfering, and it looks increasingly likely that it will be up to the King to make a call. The shooting of Sondhi Limtongkul (yellow shirts' leader) indicates that things are getting to a boiling point and some of the more extreme members are resorting to desperate measures which does not jive with the spirit of the protests from both sides - many are wondering what have they created. Unrest left to fester will always see bad hats trying increasingly ruthless strategies to win the battle - it is not a nice development.

  • The government was once again surrounded by protesters Mar 26-Apr 14, 2009, this time called the Red Shirts, a.k.a. United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). The protests underscore the ongoing political rift in the country between Thaksin supporters and opponents despite the formation of a new government led by the Democrats.
  • Short term risks remain for more clashes and unrest which may spread into the provinces. Prolonged prosecution of the arrested Red Shirts could cause simmering dissent. Thais in the provinces still aspire to democracy in the sense that their majority votes will produce a government of their choosing. It appears the government fully realizes that if it fails to alleviate economic hardships in the months ahead, dissatisfaction could worsen political instability.
  • Economic Repercussions

  • Ongoing political instability will worsen Thailand's looming recession as it may disrupt much-needed fiscal stimulus spending at a time when foreign investor confidence has been fragile since Thaksin was deposed 3 years ago.
  • Fitch and Standard & Poor's downgraded Thai sovereignt debt, which would raise the cost of financing a growing budget deficit.
  • Late 2008 airport blockade cost economy $500 million. Further losses may ensue from damage to tourist confidence. Tourist expenditure is approx. 10% of GDP.
  • Political Context

  • Red Shirts accuse key privy councilors in the current government (i.e. General Prem Tinsulanonda, the king's adviser) of being involved in the overthrow of Dr. Thaksin's government in Sept 2006. They demand the resignation of these individuals and PM Abhisit to restore true democracy in Thailand. Protests are co-led by Jakrapob Penkair, ousted minister facing lese majeste charges
  • Street protests revive old battle line between Thaksin opponents (Bangkok elite, assorted royalist groups and elements of the military, Democrat Party, PAD) and Thaksin supporters (poor rural and urban working-class masses, UDD, PTP or Phue Thai Party formerly known as PPP under PM Sundarajev and formerly known as TRT under Thaksin)
  • Anti-Thaksin PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) or the 'Yellow Shirts' claims Thailand's rural majority — who gave landslide election victories to the Thaksin camp — is too poorly educated to responsibly choose their representatives and says they are susceptible to vote buying. PAD wants the country to abandon the system of 'one-person, one-vote', and instead have a mixed system in which most representatives are chosen by profession and social group
  • Timeline: Political crisis has entered its 3rd year

  • Apr 14, 2009: Protest leaders called off rally after being surrounded by troops
  • Apr 13 2009: Bangkok erupts in violent clashes between military and protesters
  • Apr 12 2009: PM Abhisit declares state of emergency. Thaksin addresses his supporters via phone and video link and calls for peaceful revolution
  • Apr 11 2009: Protesters break into ASEAN summit in Pattaya. ASEAN summit canceled
  • Mar 26 2009: Government offices in Bangkok surrounded by anti-Abhisit protesters
  • Mar 21 2009: PM Abhisit receives 176 no-confidence votes, 246 confidence votes from Parliament after PTP-led censure debate
  • Dec 15 2008: Democrat Party's Abhisit Vejjajiva elected as Prime Minister
  • Dec 6 2008: The 3 ruling parties reconstituted under new guises. Democrat Party and representatives of smaller parties formed new coalition government of at least 250 MPs. Phue Thai Party (the reincarnation of PPP) said it may contest Democrat bid to form a coalition government
  • Dec 3 2008: Airports reopened after they were blockaded by protesters
  • Dec 2 2008: Constitutional court disbanded the coalition government (as demanded by protesters) and banned its executives from government for 5 years
  • Dec 1 2008: Standard & Poor's lowered economic outlook for Thailand due to chance of another military coup
  • Nov 23 2008: Protesters blockade airports, halting cargo and passenger flights
  • Oct 21 2008: Thaksin found guilty in Ratchadaphisek land case, sentenced to 2yrs in jail
  • Oct 20 2008: Top army general called for PM Somchai's resignation
  • Oct 6-7 2008: PAD besieged parliament to demand dissolution of House
  • Sep 17 2008: Parliament elects Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law, as new PM
  • Sep 14 2008: Emergency rule ends
  • Sep 9 2008: Constitution Court disqualified Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej from the premiership on conflict of interest charges related to his role in hosting two television cooking programs while in office. The ruling will dissolve Samak's cabinet in 30 days
  • Sep 2 2008: Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej imposed a state of emergency in Bangkok after clashes between anti-government protesters and supporters of the administration broke out after Thailand Election Commission ruled unanimously in favor of ruling party PPP's dissolution on account of electoral fraud by PPP deputy leader Yongyuth
  • May 2008: Office Minister Jakrapob Penkair resigns on lese majeste charges that he denounced the monarchy at a speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand
  • Jan 2008: PPP forms coalition government after falling short of a majority - only 232 seats secured in 480-seat parliament. None of 7 parties won majority
  • 2007: The year under the junta was chock full of surprises for Thai markets, with capital controls, populist rhetoric, economic policy indecision, violence in the muslim south and elsewhere, uncertain timing of return to democracy, elections postponed 2x, draft constitution less democratic than hoped - Senate half appointed, half elected - but passed anyway with only 58% of votes cast
p/s photos: Aum Patcharapa Chaichua

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