- Thailand in 2008:Democracy and Street Politics
The UDD protesters are Thais like us, but they are just misled. For this reason, please just beat them until they are unable to walk, not beat them to death.Captain Songklod Chuenchupol PAD weapons trainer Bangkok Post, 7 September 2008
Now my daughter asks me what happened to make the formerly peaceful PAD protests turn so disgusting and ugly…Thailand is wrecked, brought down by those who claim to love their nation and their King. When will Thailand become a peaceful country again…?Letter to the Editor Bangkok Post, 30 November 2008
Let's imagine that the government failed —What would become of Thailand? The politics on the street will follow for years to come. What will we teach our children? How can we look the foreigners in the eyes and say we are a civilized country? We will get poorer and poorer by the day and ordinary crimes will increase. And able people will shun politics as a career —leave it to mad dogs. People will come to our land and look at us not with admiration but pity. Is this what we want?Internet comment on a Bangkok Post story, 27 August 2008
Internet comment on a Bangkok Post story, 27 August 2008 The year 2008 was yet another eventful year for Thai democracy. With yet another new constitution and more new institutions, to go along with a deeply [End Page 315] divided society, it was certain to prove a challenging time. Red shirt and yellow shirt demonstrators came into confrontation on several occasions, culminating in a takeover of both of Bangkok's airports by the yellow shirts, leaving hundreds of thousands of tourists stranded. While the protestors eventually left peacefully, there can be no doubt that the year saw a weakening of all major institutions. Thailand also faces a difficult period for the economy, and some challenges in foreign relations. We begin by outlining the divisions in society, with a brief look backward, to clarify the origins and the depth of the divide in Thai society. We then turn to the political events of the year, followed by a brief discussion of the economy and foreign relations.
The Divide in Thai Society
While it is fairly simple to classify the divide in Thai society as regional, with the North and Northeast on one side, the South and Bangkok on the other, or as class-based, with the middle classes on one side, the poor on the other, and the rich divided, it is worth keeping in mind the divide is not so simply structural, and is of fairly recent origin. The election of 2001 delivered a large plurality of seats to one political party, Thai Rak Thai, both nationally and in Bangkok, drawing on voters from all classes. Only in the South, where the Democrat party has a strong foundation, did Thai Rak Thai, the party of billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, struggle to make inroads. Furthermore, at that time, Thaksin was fairly new to Thai politics, having received his first cabinet position from political ally Chamlong Srimuang. Media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul was also an ally during these years. By the end of its first four-year term, Thai Rak Thai had been successful enough that it won re-election in the largest landslide in modern Thai political history, again performing well in Bangkok, and struggling only in the South. The division that has emerged in Thai society, while it certainly has roots in regional and class differences, began shortly after that landslide victory.
The opposition to Thaksin came about in no small part through the efforts of Sondhi Limthongkul, who not only provided leadership, but also provided a large amount of the funding for the anti-Thaksin efforts. Especially at the beginning, Sondhi also took full advantage of his media empire to develop support. He began by decrying the corruption of the Thaksin government in weekly broadcasts, which soon turned into open air rallies. Corruption, however, is nothing new in Thailand, and while it certainly can still provoke a certain level of outrage, to develop the depth of commitment he would require to overthrow such a popular...