Thailand: Still Knotted by the Past

Traveler Awareness Bulletin:

Very interesting article on Thailand’s Great Depression revolution and how it has shaped the stumbling forward, most recently in the recent coup

“In many ways, the crisis that has convulsed Thailand for much of the past decade dates back to the turbulent period of the 1932 revolution that abolished the absolute monarchy and set out to establish democracy in the country and can be understood as part of a long, historical struggle between civilian politicians and royalist elites for primacy – a theme explored in the recently released book “Good Coup” Gone Bad, a collection of essays on the 2006 military coup, currently not available for purchase in Thailand.”

“Thailand cannot move forward until it has dealt with its past. As in 1932, the advance towards a meaningful democracy once again faces resistance from entrenched royalist elites. Today, however, the struggle is not only between aristocratic and “commoner” elites but has been nationalized to include all levels of a deeply divided society. Like the coup of 2006, the recent military takeover has deepened Thailand’s crisis instead of resolving it. This is unsurprising because neither were genuine attempts to break the impasse but were instead measures for the royalists to regain the upper hand.”

From The Diplomat

Thailand: And the Junta Acts as Juntas Do

From Financial Times, Asia

A political struggle over Thailand’s coup is growing beneath the country’s surface calm, as military rulers crush dissent, opposition forces mobilise in exile and western powers warn that the generals could be here to stay.

The month-old junta is now detaining people even over emblematic acts such as carrying sandwiches or reading George Orwell in public, while its enemies have set up a movement abroad modelled on the country’s second world war underground resistance.

Arrested for Reading 1984 in Public

Arrested for Reading 1984 in Public

A senior US official has warned that the latest Thai military takeover is “both more repressive and likely to last longer” than the previous one in 2006, as the generals try to quash criticism and stamp their conservative vision on politics and business.

Panels to monitor the media are being set up:

“There will be five committees set up to monitor local and international media that will report to the military daily,” Adul, a former national police chief, told Reuters by telephone. “Police will not pursue legal action against media so long as journalists are cooperative and help share news that is constructive and true. Those that spread inappropriate content may face criminal charges.”

And the police are all over any breath of protest:

Eating a sandwich: Since early June, student pro-democracy activists have handed out free sandwiches and staged quiet picnics in lieu of holding protests. Surely, the junta can’t arrest them for eating sandwiches, right?

Wrong. The sandwich activists announced a “picnic” on June 22 outside a glitzy Bangkok mall. On cue, a young Thai man showed up that afternoon. He pulled out a sandwich with trembling fingers and ate it in silence.

He was promptly surrounded by authorities and hauled off. Six others, according to the BBC, were also detained. Their offense? Possessing sandwiches with ill intent. Officers have previously thwarted “sandwich parties” in advance. Thai headlines have even warned that eating sandwiches with anti-coup intent is a criminal act.

Thai Seafood: To Buy or Boycott?

“Thailand’s seafood industry defended itself Tuesday against allegations that it uses forced and child labor, after the U.S. State Department last week downgraded the country’s ranking to the lowest level in its annual human trafficking report. [For more on the report, see here; more about sex trafficking than seafood…]

“The Southeast Asian nation exports more than $2 billion worth of shrimp each year, much of it to the U.S., where media reports in the Guardian and other publications have brought wider public attention to allegations of forced labor in Thailand’s fishery industry, particularly in the export-focused shrimp sector. The U.S. government’s move to rank Thailand alongside North Korea, Cuba and Iran in the lowest “Tier 3” ranking in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report has further focused attention on the issue and created a public relations headache for Thailand’s military leaders, who seized power in a coup d’état last month


“French supermarket firm Carrefour CA.FR +0.27% and Norway’s ICA have suspended Charoen Pokhphand Foods from their list of shrimp suppliers after the Guardian reported that “trash fish” caught using forced labor was used as feed on shrimp farms. CP Foods has since said it would audit its entire supply chain.

“Other customers, notably Costco Wholesale Corp. COST +0.95% , have maintained orders, and Thai executives said they intend to visit the U.S. to assure customers that the industry doesn’t use illegal labor and complies with local and international labor laws. “Costco is scheduled to visit us at the end of this month to receive all documents to help them explain the situation to their clients,” Mr. Poj said.



Thailand: Normalcy or Not?

Since the Thai army coup of May 22, 2014 those who know the country from travel, business or family ties, have watched with bated breath.  Would this be another in a string of military take-overs with no end in sight, or would the Army prove to be a rational center in the  escalating social conflict?

A month out it’s too soon to know, but the tell-tales are showing shifting winds.

One way:

Tens of thousands of migrants, predominantly from neighboring Cambodia, have left.

Creating chaotic scenes on the Thai-Cambodian border, tens of thousands of undocumented Cambodian laborers have been heading home, fearing a crackdown and aware of unconfirmed reports of the use of force against illegal labor by the Thai military government. VOA news

Surveillance is being increased, on the internet and in the streets.

Thailand’s military is bolstering its self-designated role as protector of the monarchy with increased “cyber patrols” to root out critics of the king following last month’s coup.
The junta has clamped down on any opposition to its overthrow of an elected government, with a crackdown on perceived slurs against the royals at the heart of its online surveillance operations. NDTV

The Other way:

The Generals have said the rice subsides scheme which bought rural support to the ousted government, is ended.  With it, the closure of huge spigots of monetized corruption, one hopes.

Thailand’s military leader, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, said all rice price-support schemes were dismissed unless they provided direct benefits to the farmers. Prayuth said alternative measures were needed to boost agricultural development and support to farmers. VOA news

Westerners in Thailand as tourists have not been fleeing, though the Chinese have been cautious.  Tourism in May, 2014 was down 11% from the prior year.  However, the curfew imposed in many cities, has been lifted.  Hoteliers and tour operators are optimistic. [ Tourism is some 6% of the Thai GDP, (compared to 16% in Cambodia,  2.8% in the US. 9.7% in Italy.)]

The curfew, imposed throughout Thailand after the coup, was lifted over the past week in 30 provinces, including the main tourist destinations. It had remained in place from midnight to 4 am (local time) in 47 provinces, including Bangkok. ABC

The Generals have said that a power will be handed back to a civilian government by August or September.  What that means exactly is not yet clear:

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who heads the council that has overseen the country since taking over on May 22, says power will be handed to a government in August as part of a three-phase plan of reconciliation, formation of a government and elections.

“A government will be set up by August, or at the very latest September,” General Prayuth told a meeting devoted to the 2015 national budget. ABC

 Given what is playing out in Iraq and Syria, the imposition of certain types of military rule is beginning to lose its odour….

Thailand Elections Annulled

Whew!  The turmoil in Thailand just got turned up a notch, and no sign of things cooling down…

Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Friday annulled last month’s general election, leaving the country in political limbo without a full government and further undermining a prime minister faced with impeachment over a failed rice subsidy scheme.

Weakened by five months of unrest, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is expected to defend herself before an anti-corruption commission by March 31, and a decision to seek her impeachment could come soon after that, with the Senate expected to take up the matter quickly.

As the crisis deepens, there is a growing risk that the “red shirt” supporters of Yingluk and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra could confront their opponents in the streets, plunging Thailand into a fresh round of political violence.

NY Times: Sawitta Lefevre

Park Named for Buddha’s Birthplace hosts Bangkok Protesters

The giant street protests that have choked Bangkok’s city core for months have subsided lately.  Shootings and deaths have re-arranged the order of battle.  Suthep Thaugsuban, one of the main leaders of the opposition to the elected, but widely perceived to be corrupt, prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, asked his followers to leave the streets but to maintain a presence at Lumphini Park, Bangkok’s main green lung — and as it turns out the first place I spent a few hours at while in Thailand a year ago.  Daily Mail UK

The city's Lumpini Park has become a makeshift camp as protesters continue to demonstrate against the government

The city’s Lumpini Park has become a makeshift camp as protesters continue to demonstrate against the government

The opposition has vowed to keep the pressure on the government.  A very recent decision to look into corruption in a rice subvention program she was connected with may have an effect  both in encouraging her opponents and in peeling away some of her supporters, poorer rice-growers in the north and east who should have benefited by the program, if properly run.

Thailand Comes off Boil to Slow Simmer

BANGKOK — In what appeared to be a major retreat by the movement to overthrow the Thai government, protesters on Friday said they were abandoning their campaign to shut down Bangkok and would dismantle their blockades of major intersections set up in January.

The leader of the main protest group, Suthep Thaugsuban, told a dwindling number of supporters on Friday night that he apologized for the inconveniences of the blockades and that demonstrators would adopt a new strategy to disrupt the government from a new base in central Bangkok. A statement by the broader protest movement said intersections would be unblocked by Monday “as a token of our appreciation.”

The protesters’ retreat came after an escalation of violence in recent weeks and a rare speech by the powerful head of Thailand’s army on Monday. In the speech he distanced himself from the protest movement’s goals and emphasized the importance of adhering to the country’s Constitution.

NY Times: Fuller


That order has incensed Buddha Issara who heads his own protest camp at a sprawling government complex in north Bangkok.

He vowed on Saturday to keep protesting even if other sites in the city close.

“I was angry with Suthep’s announcement. We have lost blood and lives and for what? To end it all now?,” said Buddha Issara who is in daily contact with Suthep by telephone but said he does not follow the head protest leader’s orders.

“I will still stay here until national reforms are in place. Suthep can do what he wants.”

Reuters: Sawitta Lefevre

A Buddhist monk reads newspapers inside Lumpini Park where anti-government protesters have set up their tents in Bangkok

A Buddhist monk reads newspapers inside Lumpini Park where anti-government protesters have set up their tents in Bangkok


Perhaps this demand by the National Anti-Corruption Commission that the PM appear before it, has something to do with the opposition scale back.  If the point is to disable to current government and attract voters away from it a new tool might do a better job than the old one of stopping daily life in the capitol.

Bangkok, Feb 27: Thailand’s anti-graft body today summoned embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over charges related to a populist rice-pledging scheme, as anti- government protesters demand her ouster amid deadly violence. The charges relate to a controversial rice subsidy scheme that paid farmers above the market price and has run out of funds, adding to Yingluck’s woes as farmers demand their money.
… The NACC says Yingluck ignored warnings that the rice scheme was fostering corruption and causing financial losses. She could face a five year ban from politics if found guilty.

Read more at:

Boiling Against Ruling Blocs: Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela

KIEV, Ukraine — At least nine people were killed Tuesday in the deadliest day of the 3-month-old Ukrainian political crisis as security forces clashed with demonstrators and later stormed their encampment at Kiev’s Independence Square, local and international media reported.

… vowing to press on with their demands for Yanukovich’s resignation and parliamentary action to curb presidential powers, protesters marched toward parliament on Tuesday afternoon to press for restoration of the 2004 constitution that was amended after Yanukovich was elected in 2010. The demonstration turned angry when the Party of the Regions postponed debate on the legislative changes demanded by the opposition and police tried to block the estimated 20,000-strong procession from entering the parliament building.


BANGKOK — Four people, including a police officer, were killed and at least 64 were injured on Tuesday as antigovernment demonstrators resisted attempts by thousands of riot police officers to dislodge them from the streets surrounding the prime minister’s office.

Protesters, who for the past three months have sought to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and have hampered elections, remained defiant as thousands of officers cleared away barricades that protesters had erected on a bridge near key government offices.


CARACAS — Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Venezuela’s capital on Tuesday after troops arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on charges of fomenting unrest against the government and violence that has killed at least four people.

White-clad demonstrators blocked traffic in the streets of Caracas as a security vehicle holding the 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist crawled at a snail’s pace after he surrendered to security forces during an opposition rally.

Lopez’s arrest could galvanize the opposition and spur more street demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro, though there is no immediate sign the protests will topple the socialist leader.


Thailand “Shallow News in Depth” Tries to Lance the Boil of Conflict

Nice article by Thomas Fuller in Bangkok, in the NY Times, about a new YouTube distributed show in the Jon Stewart Daily Show style, taking on the ironies and dangers of Thailand’s current problems.

“If you take seriously everything happening in Thai society, you will go mad,” said Winyu Wongsurawat, the co-host of the show.

Irony is in plentiful supply in Thailand today: A billionaire tycoon is praised as the champion of the poor. A scandal-tainted politician leads a mass movement against corruption. Protesters declare that they need to block elections to save democracy.

Good for them — and we all hope oppositional forces can find a way to answers that don’t involve the suffering of thousands.


State of Emergency Declared in Thailand

Thailand’s government on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas to cope with protests that have stirred up violent attacks.

Labor Minister Chalerm Yubumrung announced that the measure would take effect Wednesday and continue for 60 days.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, in a speech to followers, questioned whether the declaration was justified, saying the demonstrators had peaceful.

“Is it right for them to use the emergency decree to declare a state of emergency to come and deal with us? Come and get us,” he declared to an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds at a park in downtown Bangkok. Thousands more are encamped at other locations in the capital.

Thailand Police

The emergency decree greatly expands the power of security forces to issue orders and search, arrest and detain people, with limited judicial and parliamentary oversight. The areas covered had already been placed under tougher-than-normal security under the country’s Internal Security Act.