What analysts are saying about Thailand’s political crisis

15 04 2009

Reuters (15 April 2009: “Can Thailand break out of its downward spiral?”) cites  a number of analysts on the continuing political crisis in Thailand.

Kristina Kazmi, Asia-Pacific analyst at IHS Global Insight said that “any compromise would need to address the flaws in Thailand’s constitution and agree on the proper role of the military and the monarchy in politics.” She observes that “the big problem is there is no-one in Thailand now who actually commands the strength and the support and the respect to enact any [required] changes.”

One unifying figure is said to be the king: “But while the king is revered, the role of the monarchy in Thai politics is a deeply divisive issue at the heart of the crisis. Many in the yellow camp support an interventionist monarchy, while the reds resent the power of Thai elites. But draconian lese majeste laws block public discussion of the issue.” The report adds: “Bhumibol’s son and presumed heir, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, commands little of his father’s popular support. And with the 81-year-old king facing regular health scares, the issue of royal succession could erupt at any moment and throw another explosive element into Thailand’s volatile mix.”

Bloomberg (15 April 2009: “Thai Rifts May Spur More Turmoil in Land of Smiles”) cites a range of academic commentators on Thailand’s futures: McCargo, Hewison, Montesano. On the monarchy, the report states: “The yellow shirts also accused Thaksin and the reds of trying to upend Thailand’s monarchy. Insulting the royal family can land offenders in prison for as many as 15 years. In the past, King Bhumibol, who took the mantle in 1946 and is now the world’s longest reigning monarch, had been looked upon to unify the country in times of crisis. In 1992, after troops fired on pro-democracy demonstrators, millions watched on television as rival leaders prostrated themselves before the king.”

Kevin Hewison, a professor in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina, said, “There now doesn’t seem to be anyone who can transcend the polarization and negotiate a compromise, a prospect that may lead to a “war of attrition…” . He continued: “The standoff looks starker by the day. People of the countryside and working class want representation so they feel their vote counts. The people who everyone calls the conservative elite, royalists or bureaucratic polity are just somehow fundamentally opposed to that as something that can happen now.”

There has been some reporting and commentary that verges on the nonsensical in some outlets, especially when those with little knowledge of the background of current events are involved. An example is the  Star online’s Bunn Nagara (15 April 2009: “Mobs turn Thai politics into streetfighting bloodsport”). The perspective from Forbes is here.

Compare these with the report by Jonathan Head of the BBC (14 April 2009: “No winners in Thailand’s crisis”). Head begins “Nobody won. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the chaotic events in Thailand over the past few days.” And, the conflict is not finished.

Writing of festering grievances, Head states: “The many, well-founded criticisms made of Mr Thaksin’s style of government do not affect that view: that he was autocratic, fatally weakening Thailand’s fragile democratic institutions; that he presided over a sharp escalation of human rights violations; that corruption continued to flourish under his administrations; that he shamelessly promoted on the basis of loyalty, not competence. These are points made tirelessly by the PAD during their anti-Thaksin protests last year, and they are hard to refute.”

He then makes a point that should be obvious: “But because so many poorer Thais saw this flawed politician as their champion, they resented it bitterly when forces aligned with the wealthy elite decided to bend the rules to kick him out of office.It was ultra-royalist generals who led the coup. But they were cheered on by conservative judges and bureaucrats, wealthy business tycoons and many urban, middle-class Thais. Mr Thaksin’s followers felt robbed. That sense of being robbed continued last year when they saw the governments they had voted for harried by the PAD, and then disqualified by bizarre court decisions. And they felt patronised when PAD activists said – as they did repeatedly – that the only reason the poor voted for Mr Thaksin was because he had bribed them to. These grievances continue to fester, and deepen the divide in Thai society.

Like others, Head observes that there is a lack of effective leadership on all sides – he doesn’t say it, but PPT wonders if this has something to do with all of the bannings that have gone on since the coup in 2006 – “Certainly not Mr Abhisit, who often looks uncomfortably out of place in the rural, red heartlands of the north and north-east. How he deals with the leaders of the ‘red uprising’ now – and how that compares with the treatment given to last year’s ‘yellow uprising’ – will be an important test of his promise to uphold the rule of law impartially.”


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