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“I did this to douse the fire, not to cause a fire”
September 4, 2008 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Bangkok is under a state of emergency this week as approximately 300,000 anti-government protestors have seized control of government buildings. Thai PM Samak Sundaravej declared a state of emergency last Tuesday and resists calls for his resignation, offering instead a referendum, as the street fighting continues. Many are worried these protests will hurt Thailand's tourist industry, which makes up 6.5% of its GDP. While some express concern about mob rule, the motivations behind the protests are many: "All we are getting in Thailand is the same vicious circle of corrupt, power-hungry leaders. This system is not working."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (34 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
jesus christ, to get 300,000 people together for an action of this magnitude... consider my mind boggled.
posted by shmegegge at 2:04 PM on September 4, 2008


If the opposing sides keep swinging their dicks around like this, they're going to Bangkok.
posted by Kabanos at 2:23 PM on September 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


"All we are getting in the US is the same vicious circle of corrupt, power-hungry leaders. This system is not working."
posted by SaintCynr at 2:36 PM on September 4, 2008


Has the King said anything yet? In 1973 when the democracy movement succeeded in overturning the military junta in power at the time (something like 1500 people died), the King played an important role in stepping in and condemning the military leaders (as well as some student leaders). The King's word carries a lot of power in Thailand, I wonder if he plans on speaking out soon (or if he has and I am not aware of it).
posted by Falconetti at 2:40 PM on September 4, 2008


Interesting. it was just a couple years ago that the military with popular support ousted the current government. Now it seems like that government fucked up too.

The people really ought to consider their devotion to monarchy. These things wouldn't be happening if their king was doing a better job, yet it's illegal to criticize the king and he was clearly behind the last coup.

I wonder if the protesters get it this time, or do they still think the king is only capable of good? I know last time you saw lots of people asking the king to "save" them.

As far as tourism goes, I'm not sure why it would be a problem, I think most people who visit Thailand are looking for decadence, and a revolution would only ad to the air of wild adventure, unless the protesters were anti-foreigner or something (or if they were so disruptive that basic services didn't function).
posted by delmoi at 2:44 PM on September 4, 2008


A point of view from an expat living in Thailand.

A Thai forum discussing the situation.
posted by nickyskye at 3:04 PM on September 4, 2008


Thanks for this post; I lived in Bangkok for a few years (long ago) and am concerned by what's going on there. I'm still not sure what's really going on, except that the Economist's description sounds more plausible than the "noble protesters" kneejerk reactions, which this also casts doubt on:

So far one man has died in the crisis – a Samak supporter was beaten to death by anti-government protesters.

The idea that an elected government should be evicted because the majority of the voters are dummies should not appeal to anyone with a genuine attachment to democracy. If the voters elect an asshole, you're stuck with an asshole till the next elections.
posted by languagehat at 3:08 PM on September 4, 2008


Ha! Try to do that in America, Enemy Combatant!
posted by Balisong at 3:25 PM on September 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that the protestors represent the royalist, urban, pro-military side of Thai politics while the current government finds most of its support in relatively impoverished rural areas. That's why you're seeing big protests in the capital city even when the government has significant popular support nationwide.

Interesting. it was just a couple years ago that the military with popular support ousted the current government. Now it seems like that government fucked up too.

The military gave up rule last summer; there were elections in December. The current government represents essentially the same political faction as the pre-coup government. In other words, the coup accomplished little of lasting political substance, and Thailand is back to where it was in early 2006. The segments of society that supported the coup are the same (or similar) to those behind the current protests.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:41 PM on September 4, 2008


I think most people who visit Thailand are looking for decadence, and a revolution would only ad to the air of wild adventure

Thailand has become a very mainstream tourist definition in recent years, especially for tourists from Asia (Japan, Korea, increasingly China) and Australia. We're talking family holidays at beautiful white-sand beaches, not adventure tourism in a developing-country environment.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:44 PM on September 4, 2008


Can't imagine the tourist biz is too comfortable there just now. Seems Phuket airport was under siege last week.

Trying to make heads or tails out of this situation, nothing with much of a good overview. This article on Bloomberg isn't bad.

Enjoying the mischief on Not the Nation.
posted by nickyskye at 3:46 PM on September 4, 2008


Samark is Thaksin's puppet.
posted by the cuban at 3:54 PM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


And Thaksin would be the majority's choice for Prime Minister, if the military allowed it.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:59 PM on September 4, 2008


If the opposing sides keep swinging their dicks around like this, they're going to Bangkok.

I really shouldn't have giggled at this, but I did.
posted by diablo37 at 4:14 PM on September 4, 2008


Does anyone else feel like Thailand goes through something like this every few years? I'm not too familiar with the country, but it feels like this happens every few years.
posted by whoshotwho at 4:18 PM on September 4, 2008


I think most people who visit Thailand are looking for decadence

I'm pretty sure my parents weren't. Thailand has worked (in New Zealand, anyway) pretty hard on getting the message across that they don't particularly want tourists cruising for underage sex, and a lot of tourists have headed over there based on an image of a generous, inviting culture, wonderfl beaches, stunning architecture and history.

The idea that an elected government should be evicted because the majority of the voters are dummies should not appeal to anyone with a genuine attachment to democracy. If the voters elect an asshole, you're stuck with an asshole till the next elections.

ObHitlerReference illustrating limits of this idea.
posted by rodgerd at 4:19 PM on September 4, 2008


Now that's a fuckin' knife.
posted by gman at 4:49 PM on September 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


approximately 300,000 anti-government protestors have seized control of government buildings.

I'm jealous.
posted by chillmost at 5:00 PM on September 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


Nicholas Cage and his viral publicity campaigns are getting a little out of hand.
posted by william_boot at 5:10 PM on September 4, 2008


TRUTH UPDATE: I'm afraid I confused the number of people who've seized government buildings with the number of protestors who were expected to show up for a rally last week. In fact, all reports state that "thousands" of protestors have seized government buildings, not 300,000. MSTPT News regrets this error.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:21 PM on September 4, 2008


Now that's a fuckin' knife.

Anime makes sense now...
posted by recoveringsophist at 5:22 PM on September 4, 2008


I should actually be there now, in an event for about 300 students and their teachers, organizers, etc., but the whole damn thing was canceled.

As I understand it, there is a genuine and possibly unreconcilable rift between the Thaksin-supporting rural majority and the relatively small, relatively new urban middle class (Bangkok & Chiang Mai).

My thoughts are with the people of the land of smiles.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:14 PM on September 4, 2008


Oh, I didn't mean to imply that Thaksin is still involved; rather, they support him through the continuation of his policies and continued power of his cronies, etc.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:15 PM on September 4, 2008


Does anyone else feel like Thailand goes through something like this every few years?

Until the coup in 2006 Thailand had been relatively stable since 1992. In between those years there were occasional rumors that a coup or something was brewing but nothing happened until well into Thaksin's rule. I worked for a newspaper in Bangkok for several years in the late 90s and during that time there were a few tense political moments -- there were running bets one summer that the tanks would hit the streets. But Thaksin managed to cement enough power both in Bangkok and upcountry that he was able to maintain a strong hold on things for quite a while. His mistake, ultimately, was disrespecting the king; Thaksin wasn't being sufficiently grovelly towards the end and finally the military, undoubtedly with the king's nod, booted him out. I think he could have lasted a few more years had he played nice with the old man.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:19 PM on September 4, 2008


william_boot's comment echoed my own first reaction.

This is my first time hearing about this latest uprising. I do remember the coup in 2006, and even the same [at least on the blue] comments of 'wow, why can't we do this in the u.s.' coming up in the thread.

I think the idea that you're stuck with somebody until the next election is a little flawed according to my understanding of a democracy. Surely there are limits to what an elected official can do before the entire nation gets peeved and should mobilize against it... right?

What is the best way to understand the reasons for this conflict? The Bloomberg article nickyskye linked to above was good but has a definite "financial-effects" slant to it, the BBC and Time articles seem incomplete too. Maybe this Q&A article (also from the BBC) is a good starting point.

As an afterthought, i am continually amazed by how little world coverage is represented on the 24 hour news channels. Yay for election season?
posted by phylum sinter at 8:41 PM on September 4, 2008


Maybe they should institute a recall process.
posted by delmoi at 8:50 PM on September 4, 2008


Well, the spirit of this event is reassuring, if not the motive, or the consequences, or the results, or... nevermind.
posted by tehloki at 9:30 PM on September 4, 2008


The problem with succesful oustings of the rulers is that it is a crapshot what comes after. Right now there is democracy. No guarantee that that will continue.
posted by Catfry at 5:45 AM on September 5, 2008


I think the idea that you're stuck with somebody until the next election is a little flawed according to my understanding of a democracy. Surely there are limits to what an elected official can do before the entire nation gets peeved and should mobilize against it... right?

But the "entire nation" isn't peeved—that's the point. Just as in Russia, you have an authoritarian asshole in charge who's hated by a relatively few urban sophisticates (and the West) and loved and/or respected by the majority of the population. To say "Well, I don't like the guy and I and my friends are smarter than the sheeple so we're going to get rid of him" is profoundly anti-democratic.
posted by languagehat at 6:14 AM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


The thing about this situation is, this is not the first rumblings of it. Even last year when they were having the elections, there were protests. Several friends of mine were teaching at Chitralada (the palace school) and they missed days of school because of fears of protests. I have several more friends over there this year and one has told me that they've missed school for a week+ because of concern over their safety. Thailand is a beautiful country, and the people are wonderful, but the elected government has some severe issues that desperately need to be fixed. Much as Samak might like, this is no longer something that he can just wave away with "Mai pen lai" (don't worry).

Also - Falconetti: I agree, the King really does need to say something. The first article mentions that Samak met with him. I'd be interested to see what the results of that meeting were. The King has a lot of influence with the people as well as the government, so if anyone can bring this to an amicable ending, it would be him.
posted by JerseyBear at 9:01 AM on September 5, 2008


The king doesn't really need to say anything at this point -- all those yellow shirts worn by the protesters make it clear whose side they're on, and if the king didn't like these people speaking for him you can be sure the palace would do something about it. By keeping silent the king can maintain the carefully crafted charade that he takes no side in the nation's political administration. (Which is nonsense, but this is Thailand where appearance, no matter how superficial, is crucial.) But of course the PAD's power comes, indirectly, from Bhumibol -- all the guy's in charge are part of the palace inner circle.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 12:05 PM on September 5, 2008


I'm happy to see people interested in this. Any other MeFites in Thailand, or who know people in Thailand, your information and input is much appreciated.

Now some updates.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said he is speaking with "related'' agencies about ending the [emergency] decree because it was ineffective, he told reporters today in Bangkok. "I am still thinking about it,'' Samak said. So far, protestors remain unimpressed, with some 10,000 surrounding government buildings.

This BBC article provides a pretty good introductory overview of the different ways this could pan out.

This Reuters piece sheds some light on the internal conflicts among the Thai people regarding this protest. Rural Thais are pretty angry with what they see as middle-class urban Thais disrupting their daily life. Farmers depend on being able to buy and sell in more populated areas, and with Bangkok in lockdown, the livelihood of some of Thailand's poorest is effectively cut off. From the article:
The protests are led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a coalition of royalists, academics and businessmen.

The PAD protesters, wearing the royal colour of yellow, want Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government to quit, accusing him and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- now in exile in London after fleeing corruption charges -- of wanting to turn the kingdom into a republic, a charge both deny.

"They don't love the king as they claim they do and want to fight for him," glass blower Prapha Janjaem said of the protesters.

"If they did, they wouldn't do what they are doing now," Prapha said. Exports of her glass souvenirs were stranded at Bangkok's port after union workers went on strike in support of the protests.

"Many of these well-off protesters may think they can afford to join the rally, but they don't realise that the demonstration is hurting everybody else in this country," Prapha said.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:06 PM on September 5, 2008


Samak told to resign over cooking show.

(That's the NY Times, not the Onion.)
posted by languagehat at 9:18 AM on September 9, 2008


And apparently, Mr. Samak's party has already chosen a successor: Samak!
“P.P.P. will propose Samak as prime minister on the grounds that he’s the party leader, and the wrongdoing was petty and not triggered by mismanagement,” said Witthaya Buranasiri, an official of Mr. Samak’s People Power Party.
I'm beginning to wonder why I had doubts about supporting royalist protestors now. What's the bloody difference?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:18 PM on September 9, 2008


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