Bangkok Shutdown: Protesters Gather at Key Intersections

One of the world's favorite tourist destinations grinds to a halt yet again as protesters hit the streets to call for the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

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Charlie Campbell

Protesters gather at key intersections around Bangkok to call for the ousting of PM Yingluck Shinawatra on Jan. 13, 2014

Normally bustling Bangkok ground to a halt on Monday as antigovernment protesters made good on their promise to shut down the sprawling Thai capital. Seven key intersections around the city were besieged, blocking traffic and maddening a population of over 6 million, as well as thousands of foreigners here in peak season hoping to enjoy the shopping, temples and restaurants.

Protesters, however, were unmoved. “The people cannot negotiate,” protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told the assembled crowd late on Sunday. “There is no win-win situation. There is only win.”

Forty-five nations have issued travel warnings, while the U.S. embassy took the unprecedented step of urging Americans in the city to stockpile a “week’s supply of cash … [and] two-week supply of essential items such as food, water and medicine.” Local officials were also taking the threat of violence seriously, and more than 20,000 police and troops have been deployed to guard 20 key institutions, most notably the city’s airports, which were famously seized by protesters in 2008.

For two months, Suthep, a former opposition lawmaker who quit the Democrat Party to lead the protests, has incited whistle-blowing mobs, numbering around 200,000 at their peak, with his firebrand speeches calling for the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

(MORE: Thai Judges Strike Blow at PM Yingluck as Protesters Ready to Shut Down Capital)

Yingluck, who won a landslide election in July 2011, is accused of being a puppet for her brother, billionaire former minister Thaksin Shinawatra. She has dissolved parliament and called fresh elections for Feb. 2, but the Democrat Party has boycotted the ballot and instead demanded the formation of an unelected “people’s council” to enact unspecified reforms.

Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 but remains an influential figure in the Pheu Thai party from his aerie in Dubai, where he lives in self-imposed exile. The current tumult began in November with protests against a now shelved amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return home and reunited with some $1.2 billion in cash seized and assets, following his conviction in absentia for abuse of power.

Thaksin-backed parties have won all five Thai elections since 2001 with significant majorities. Populist policies such as cheap health care, microfinancing and fuel subsidies ensured strong support in the impoverished, agricultural northeast of the country. Supakit Bumchatong, a 36-year-old taxi driver who moved to Bangkok from the northeastern city of Udon Thani seven years ago, is typical of many northern voters. “When my father was ill and died, the hospital bill was 250,000 baht [$7,500] but I only had to pay 30 baht [$1],” he says. “I can earn money now, and my sister went to university. That is why I love Thaksin Shinawatra.”

The rival Democrat Party, backed by the Bangkok middle class and voters in southern provinces, has not won an election since 1992 and attributes Thaksin’s enduring popularity to brazen vote buying. Academics say there’s no evidence for that — “it’s about policies that can affect their well-being,” says Professor Bhanupong Nidhiprabha, an economist at Thammasat University near Bangkok — but that doesn’t alter the perception among Thaksin’s opponents.

“I don’t like Thaksin because poor people in countryside don’t work and sell their votes,” says Tina, a 21-year-old protester handing out whistles by Bangkok’s Asok intersection. “I love my King.”

(MORE: How Thailand’s Meddlesome Military Got Tired of Meddling)

Ostensibly to maintain order, the military has deployed forces in Bangkok, but this has naturally raised eyebrows in a country that has seen 18 actual or attempted coups since 1932. That the same battalions that spearheaded the 2006 putsch are now standing by in the capital may be of special significance, says Paul Chambers, research director of political science at Chiang Mai University.

“[This] is sending a message that these Suthep-led demonstrators are taking to the streets, but the pro-Thaksin police better not try to repress them,” he says. “It’s a very dangerous situation.” (Thaksin was formerly a police officer before starting his telecom business.)

Upheaval is becoming onerously familiar to the Thai people. The past decade has seen the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, the 2006 coup, the 2008 Yellow Shirt occupation of Suvarnabhumi Airport, the 2010 crackdown on Red Shirt protests and the nation’s worst flooding in a half-century in 2011.

“If Thailand has shown one thing over the last 10 or 15 years it’s resilience,” says Winfried F. Wicklein, principal Thailand economist for the Asian Development Bank. “I’m very confident that [this current unrest] is something the country can master.”

Thailand boasts Southeast Asia’s second largest economy and is a vital commercial hub, home to some 5 million migrant workers. Since the protests began in November, the baht has dropped 6% against the U.S. dollar and the stock market is the worst performing in the region.

(MORE: Thailand’s Democrat Party Is Hilariously Misnamed)

Bhanupong warns that if the stock market continues to slide the property sector could also be affected. “Confidence is a big problem,” he says. “From last year until now, consumption has gone down, and it’s going to get worse as consumer confidence has been eroded.”

Tim Forsyth, a lecturer on international development at the London School of Economics, who specializes in Southeast Asia, thinks any effect will be temporary. “Possibly investment will go to the competitors such as Vietnam, but I suspect that long-term investment will not change its direction as a result of whatever happens in this current Thai crisis.” However, violence or a military takeover “will result in a loss of investment.”

Bhanupong says the protests are designed to affect blue collar workers in the service sector, such as hotel staff and taxi drivers. (Hotel occupancy is down to just 50% compared with the seasonal norm of 90%.)

“The poor people will suffer more, the upper classes won’t feel it yet, but we’ll probably have to wait for the stock market to fall further and then they’ll have a realization about the importance of rule of law,” he says.

Until then, disruption is the name of the game. On Monday, a cacophony of ear-piercing whistles erupted as demonstrators bearing yellow headbands expressed their dissatisfaction with the current government. The situation will deteriorate if earlier pledges to cut power at key government institutions and the residences of Cabinet members are carried out, or if progovernment Red Shirt demonstrators come to the capital in search of confrontation. With eight people killed and more than 400 injured in recent street violence, the possibility of bloodshed is high.

22 comments
NeverWrongSometimes
NeverWrongSometimes

Thai politics simplified: The whole situation is elite vs. elite.  We hear only about the "Bangkok elites" in the media but this situation for the last decade is really "Bangkok elites" vs. "Chiang Mai elites".  Everyone one else is just a pawn in the game.

Padmanaabh Chatterjee
Padmanaabh Chatterjee

Showtime Bangkok. Ya'll make me laugh though. You will lose lives and democracy.

NeverWrongSometimes
NeverWrongSometimes

Don't confuse elections with Democracy.  Elections are just a small part of the democratic system, basically the seed that grows the tree. It's what an elected group of people does AFTER the election that creates a true Democracy.  When the rule of law is subverted by an elected body then, even though they were elected, the government is not democratic.  In the US we have witnessed exactly the same kind of corrupted government as we see in Thailand just not on the national scale.  The best example would be the "Chicago style politics" of former mayor Richard J. Daley.  No one would call Daley's government democratic.  Corruption has always been part of politics in Thailand, (or politics anywhere else in the world), it's just that Thaksin, his sister and his cronies are corrupt far beyond the societal norm of Thailand. When the author of this article, (who is highly biased), states that the elections showed no evidence of rampant vote buying he is correct only in that both major political physically by votes, it's not just the Pheu Thai party.  What he doesn't get is that the populist policies enacted by the various political parties associated with Thaksin is an even more powerful form of vote buying.  Thaksin doesn't care about the rural poor, he only cares about the rural poor votes.  


If you want to really understand the finer details of the Thai conflict that are rarely addressed in the shallow western media then the article below is a must read:


http://atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/SEA-01-130114.html

musashi
musashi

As expected, the English media in Thailand is now so accommodating to insurgency and anarchy, with reporters pestering the government to give-in to the demands of protestors. They are even blocking comments from foreigners who do not agree to anarchy, and who wants to see democracy take root in Thailand.

So for those reading Thai English tabloids, don't expect fair and impartial reports.  For example, Bangkokpost is owned by the super rich Chirathivat family, who owns the Central Group, which leases royally owned land for their malls, hotels and properties. By necessity, and close association, they are royalists and will not publish views deemed otherwise. That's why their forums allow so much hatred and lies from royalists, yet hardly publishes facts that counter such lies. 

Perhaps multinational companies that believes in democracy should stop advertising in Bangkokpost until such time they stop being servants of those feudal lords who cause so much suffering to the poor.

musashi
musashi

@Suphapat:

For those who keep saying Thaksin is corrupted:

From 2006 to 2011, for 5 long years, the junta and the junta puppets (Democrat Party) could only find Thaksin guilty of a conflict of interest (by a court setup by Thaksin's enemies).

The Assets Scrutiny Committee (a critical junta-established agency) recommended legal action against the citizens' elected government PPP (and Thaksin) without hearing 300 defense witnesses or evidence. Kaewsan Atibodhi (ASC’s secretary) even publicly proclaimed "Evidence and witnesses are useless!" (Bangkokpost 9 April 2008). After which, the Constitution Court ruled that the ASC's work, undertaken under junta rules, was legal (Bangkokpost 1 July 2008).

Being full time Thaksin voyeurs and all-knowing about matters regarding Thaksin, the royalists should have plenty of evidence right? Surprisingly not, as we see them trolling day after day accusing Thaksin of crimes, but being unable to produce an iota of evidence to support their verbal incontinence.

Now even with military and judicial coups, what did the Democrat Party achieve? Let's use a football analogy:

Thaksin was charged with rule-breaking, sort of "handball" (potential conflict of interest). He was red carded. His team banned for 5 years.

Still the Democrats could not win the game. So the army went on the field with tanks, changed the game rules and told the football fans to accept them or the tanks will remain on the pitch. ("the 2007 charter was effectively forced on the country by a military junta which gave citizens a Hobson's choice" - Bangkokpost 14 Dec’12).

When the fans protested in 2010, many were mercilessly gunned down and blamed for their own deaths. Suthep said:"Protesters died because they ran into bullets" (08 Mar 2011 http://asiancorrespondent.com/49822/thai-deputy-pm-protesters-died-because-they-ran-into-bullets/).


And here we are, the kangaroo Thai courts are still procrastinating the prosecution of two of their kind.



Luciano Maximo
Luciano Maximo

I think it fits very well in Brazil as well... Actually, thinking a little bit more about it, there would be something like 50^N+1 Shades of Corruption

reporter
reporter

In Japan, anyone can legally criticize -- and even condemn to hell -- the emperor.

In Thailand, criticizing the monarchy is illegal.  The courts -- the same courts that are trying to destroy the Pheu Thai Party -- help the monarchy to send critics to prison.

     http://www.dw.de/thai-monarchy-a-hindrance-to-democracy/a-16555274

The royal family enjoys using the power of the state to shut up the critics of the royal family.

A Thai man who criticized the royal family was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

     http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303630404577391932133031356

He died in prison.

Suthep Thaugsuban enthusiastically supports imprisoning critics of the king.


If you are a student at a Thai university, then you know how a wealthy Western democracy like Japan and Canada operate.  You surely feel immense shame at the way by which the monarchy -- in alliance with politicians like Suthep Thaugsuban -- brutalizes ordinary Thai citizens.  You must act to save the nation.  You must kill the entire royal family and politicians like Suthep Thaugsuban.


reporter, USA, http://theclearsky.blogspot.com/

Prem Singh
Prem Singh

The protester leader Mr Sudave got the '`Asia's person of the year 2013 'news from asia society...glad to here that#

Vic Mendoza
Vic Mendoza

corruption is contagious..better you only have 50.

Suphapat Inphum
Suphapat Inphum

The purpose of Thai protesters is to topple the corrupted government and end Taskin regime from our political system for good .

Kon Krajangsiwalai
Kon Krajangsiwalai

they come to close the city running business and all connection transportation 90% shut down the capital city for asking for stop election in democracy way under leading by old politic party offending the government...Bangkok is in chaos T.T

Frank Carpediem
Frank Carpediem

I'm sorry I misread. I though this was another Jersey article about the governor's corruption.

bellasia23
bellasia23

mr. reporter who defend Yingluck is obviously one of her party.

When the democrats accused Thaksin of buy votes is not about the good things he does helping the poor peoples, is about the real things he do at every election, anyone knows that he have a big net of supporters payed directly from him and they pay the voters in the villages for give the vote to the PTP.

reporter
reporter

Western governments usually give free medical care to the poor.  So, the nearly free medical care that predecessors of the Pheu Thai Party (PTP) gave to the Thai living in the rural areas is reasonable.  Western governments often give subsidies to farmers.  So, the rice-buying scheme implemented by the PTP is reasonable.

Yet, Suthep Thaugsuban and his supporters call these government efforts (to help the poor) "vote buying".  He claims that this "vote buying" justifies overthrowing a democratically elected government.

His behavior and the behavior his supporters explains well why Southeast Asians have lived in such poverty and ignorance for such a long time.  While the Eastern Europeans worked hard to improve their democracies over the past 20 years, Thaugsuban and his supporters are busily trying to terminate  democracy in Thailand.

If you are a student at a university in Thailand, then you are well educated, and you can, via the Internet, read about how a Western nation like Germany operates.  You know that the people destroying the future of Thailand are the royal family, the politicians in the Democrat Party, the thugs who seized control of the government offices, etc.

You feel horror and shame while other Thais like Thaugsuban ruin the lives of the Thai people.

You must act now to save your nation -- to give the Thai people the chance to become a wealthy Western democracy like Japan.  You must take up arms (i.e., weapons) and protect the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. You must kill the king and the rest of the royal family and must kill politicians like Suthep Thaugsuban, etc.


reporter, USA, http://theclearsky.blogspot.com

amaree_i
amaree_i

@reporter You said to become a wealthy Western democracy we must kill the king and the rest of the royal family… if you think killing is the best suggestion I don't think you are a civilized person. Thailand is rich in culture and moral, we have pride of who we are, and we  also believe in democracy but not corruption. We will do what is best for our country and our culture. We don't need your violent and coward suggestion to become democracy.