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Trying to Understand the Thai Political Turmoil

Posted by Stuart at 12:43 PM on August 30, 2008

A few family and friends have contacted me to ask me how I am doing in the midst of all of the current political turmoil in Thailand, so I thought I'd write a quick post to say that I am doing OK. Granted, the political atmosphere is a huge mess, but away from the protests downtown in the government quarter, life is going on as normal in the rest of Bangkok.

I have been trying to keep up with what is going on. But as an outsider, this has been a very difficult task. What are the protesters really aiming for? Who is supporting them? Who are the big groups that are struggling for power here? That is basically what this is all about -- a power struggle over who will control the country, and the type of government that will have that power. So who are the big players in this drama?

We have the protesters who say that they want the current government to step down and for radical changes be made to Thailand's system of government. We have the current recently-elected Prime Minister, who so far has shown a surprising amount of restraint, but refuses to budge. We have the police who have tried unsuccessfully to break up the protests (but also are being very restrained in the face of a very difficult situation). We have the military, who have their own motives and power spheres to protect. And we have the symbol that the palace represents, and who everyone mentions in their rally cries.

The AP published a very interesting article called "Thai protest alliance not so happy with democracy" that seems to cut through the confusion and explain what is going on to the layman. I pulled out some of the interesting parts:

Saying that Western-style democracy has allowed corruption to flourish, the protesters have said they hope to repeat their success of two years ago, when they helped topple former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra...

"After the current government is ousted, we will propose a totally new political system with those corrupt guys prosecuted and we will have a clean and efficient political system," protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul told The Associated Press...

The "new political system" Sondhi is referring to includes a Parliament that made up of members of whom 30% are elected and 70% are appointed. What is the reasoning behind this thinking? As the article explains:

The protesting alliance and its sympathizers -- monarchists, the military and the urban elite -- complain that Western-style democracy of one man, one vote gives too much weight to Thailand's rural majority, whom they consider unsophisticated and susceptible to vote buying.

In such a system, they say, money politics fuels corruption and bad governance.

I'll leave the analysis of Sondhi's quotes as an exercise for the reader.

(The AP article was brought to my attention by the Bangkok Pundit blog, which I have been continuously refreshing in my browser over the past few days.)

Posted by: Bill on August 30, 2008 6:08 PM

Thanks for the synopsis Stuart.
Glad to hear things are relatively calm where you are. Now I can stop picturing you hanging onto the landing skid of the last chopper out of Bangkok.

I can sort of understand their frustration with democracy. I live in the South and often can't help noticing that many of the people I interact with shouldn't be trusted with simple hand tools, much less the vote. But that's one of the things you have to come to terms with in a nascent democracy, I suppose.

Keep us posted and stay safe.


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