Red vs. Yellow
March 29, 2010 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Is Thailand Falling Apart?
The Battle for Thailand is ongoing and pragmatism has given way to dogmatic intransigence. In february talk of the next coup was raising political temperature; with rural Thailand simmering with anti-government rage.; and so Thailand’s Red shirted protesters went ahead with a Blood protest rally.
posted by adamvasco (27 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Thaksin getting his red-shirted followers to believe they are "fighting for democracy" is a triumph of fakery on par with Reagan tricking poor whites to vote against their economic interests.
posted by docgonzo at 1:28 PM on March 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'll admit I haven't yet read all your links (thanks for the interesting post) so maybe I'm repeating something in one of them.

Yesterday Abhisit met the leaders (short bbc video) of the Red protest, which is hopefully progress.
posted by selton at 1:43 PM on March 29, 2010

I'm wondering if the OP and commenters in this thread either speak Thai or have spent a significant amount of time (ie, more than three years) living in that country.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:44 PM on March 29, 2010


So what's really going on?
posted by effugas at 1:57 PM on March 29, 2010

Thaksin getting his red-shirted followers to believe they are "fighting for democracy" is a triumph of fakery on par with Reagan tricking poor whites to vote against their economic interests.

Well, it's hard to say. Reading the article, Thaksin was hardly Thomas Jefferson, But it's hard to be less democratic then military coup d'Ă©tat followed by a shredding of the constitution.

Furthermore, their specific demands are for elections.

(As for 'economic interest', it's clear from the article that Thaksin's economic policies were good for the rural poor in Thailand)
posted by delmoi at 2:04 PM on March 29, 2010

Thaksin getting his red-shirted followers to believe they are "fighting for democracy" is a triumph of fakery on par with Reagan

That's not fair. Thaksin was elected by the majority and the King tired of him and had him chucked out. Even though he was a corrupt asshole, his populist policies really did help the upcountry people. And if fair elections were held today, he would win again -- even without having to buy votes. The King and the military couldn't stand having the Police force in power. They didn't really give a toss about his corruption -- they're just as bad.

I really do believe Thaksin blew a golden opportunity to bring true democracy to the country. Had he upheld the 1997 constitution and restrained his greedy hands, he could have done some significant good for Thailand by reforming the school system, the health care system, and bringing some long-lasting stability.

KokuRyu, I lived in Thailand for nearly a decade; I speak and read and write the language. Is there something you'd like some help with?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 2:16 PM on March 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

Thaksinomics was and still would be very popular among the working class Thais. Particularly the B30 ($1) hospital card allowing poorer people to get some healthcare.

I don't know how much the average Thai would worry about his government being corrupt, as most Thais I've spoken to expect/believe politicians to be even more corrupt than him.

KokuRyu: I speak Thai very badly and can't read it better than a 4yr old. I had lived there, more or less, for about 3 years.
posted by selton at 2:51 PM on March 29, 2010

Kraftmatic for the win - everything he says tallies with exactly with what Thais I have discussed this with said (except for Thais from the elite. It's one thing to accuse Thaksin of mispresenting democracy, but good god, the yellow shirts don't even have the pretense of democracy.)
posted by smoke at 3:55 PM on March 29, 2010

I suppose I took exception with Is Thailand Falling Apart? After living in Japan for a decade, I noticed that very few, if anyone in the foreign news media got Japan right, or if they did, it was for a millisecond.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:59 PM on March 29, 2010

Fyi, for some more info, the Australian show Dateline did a feature on this on Sunday. Some of the questions are a bit dumb (Dateline consistently takes the dumber road in favour of the higher road, it's not 60 Minutes bad but it could be so much better), however it gives you a reasonable picture of what's going on.
posted by smoke at 4:04 PM on March 29, 2010

Thaksin getting his red-shirted followers to believe they are "fighting for democracy" is a triumph of fakery on par with Reagan tricking poor whites to vote against their economic interests.

Bhumibol's fakery is far more pertinent.
posted by the cuban at 4:15 PM on March 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I really do believe Thaksin blew a golden opportunity

Even Frodo wanted to keep the ring. Power is just too tempting.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:16 PM on March 29, 2010

I neither speak nor read Thai, but I did spend about six months there. I didn't get the impression that democracy as most of us understand it was as teleological a concern as it is in other places.

That said, I have never been happier in my life than the time I spent there, and my hopes and if I prayed, prayers are with the Thai people. Confirmation bias and ethnocentrism be damned, the Thai just fundamentally *get* some things about life that are hard to come by elsewhere.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:52 PM on March 29, 2010

Politics is always hard to understand from the outside. Every time a European tells me what America is doing wrong and how stupid I am for allowing it, I am reminded of this.
posted by chairface at 4:13 PM on March 30, 2010

Thailand's Battle of Attrition
posted by adamvasco at 3:01 AM on April 2, 2010

So, I wouldn't pass KokuRyu's test (I don't speak any more than super basic Thai and I haven't lived in the country, only visited), but my best friend's family is one of the BKK elites and that's allowed me to have an unusual perspective that very much agrees in tone with the first linked article (the LRB one).

Based on discussions I've had with the BFF's family in the past, I would not be surprised to see Thailand experience a major, devastating political crisis when the king dies. When I was there, I was given the opportunity to participate in the public viewing for the king's sister's body, and it really drove home how the king and his family are viewed in Thai society. He's the only thing everyone agrees on, to a very scary degree--I've never been to a country that has such a cult of personality. As the LRB article points out and my BFF's family agrees, basically no one has that faith and interest in his son. So expect the fragile peace that the king has forged, on the basis of the fact that he's the only king most all of Thailand has every known and an incredibly skilled manipulator of his public persona, to violently and rapidly shatter upon his death.

When I talk to friends who've visited Thailand, they tell me how tolerant the country was, how everyone was friendly and welcoming, and what a wonderful time they had. To me, that's only a facet of Thailand, the part that the government makes very clear is to be The Public Face of Thailand (I tried to track the tourism video that I sat through in Pattaya, but I can't find it. Suffice to say, it was clumsily emphatic that Thai people were Very Welcoming). What I remember of Thailand is the insistence on proper, modest dress, the tension between Chinese and Thai identity, and the incredibly different ways tourists would enter a temple and Thais would. Because I was with an upper class Thai family and not on my own as a tourist, I was expected to respect their values. That meant wearing covering dresses (please, tell me about your romps on the beach at Phi Phi or Phuket! I will tell you about the looks you probably missed seeing), properly praying (incense, gold, lotus flower, etc) at the temples, and learning Mandarin along with Thai. It's a weird dichotomy, this difference between how I experienced Thailand and how my friends experienced it. I think the LRB article only begins to touch on how the government's development of Western tourism is built upon spinning a (necessarily) limited view of Thailand that ultimately shortchanges tourists.

One thing that I would be interested in seeing is the role of Thai Chinese in all of this. Somewhere along the way, I was given the impression that there was tension between successful Thai Chinese (of which my BFF's family is part) and ethnic Thais. So, yes religious tensions and yes rural poor/urban rich tensions, but also I wonder about the tensions between ethnic groups.

All in all, I think the West underestimates the explosive potential in Thailand at its peril. The shutting down of the airports a couple years back was only a taste of what I really fear is to come--though it would be wonderful to see a solution for the red/yellow issues, these are not simple issues and the king is getting weaker.
posted by librarylis at 11:45 PM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks for you personal insight, librarylis.
posted by smoke at 4:02 AM on April 3, 2010

I don't think the Thai-Chinese tensions come into play much in this situation at all. Thaksin of course is Chinese, as are the most prominent leaders of the PAD, Sondhi and Chamlong. Thaksin's inner circle are Chinese, and so are many of the army generals aligned with the yellow shirts. Even the king's family has Chinese roots. The racial situation is so confused it's kind of useless to try to view the conflict in that context. Typically "Thai" social groups that fall on the same ethnic side are in opposition here, like the Santi Asoke movement -- fervent yellow shirters that are formed mainly of upcountry working class -- and Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party (literally Thais Love Thais -- an ironically nationalistic name for a party headed by a Chinese) found its major base among pretty much the same crowd.

Fifty or sixty years ago race would have been a much bigger issue, as a string of Thai generals stirred up anti-Chinese sentiment with the bogeyman of communism to strengthen their positions. (Interestingly, the dish Pad Thai gets its name through this anti-Chinese racism -- one of the dictators of the time, Phibul, came up with the name for a variation of the dish to create a strictly "Thai" food for Thai people -- one that didn't include rice, which was associated with the Chinese.)

But yes, the situation will really play itself out when the king dies. What's going on right now is pretty much all the interested parties jockeying to be in the best position when the old man finally checks out. Things will likely get very, very ugly in the near future.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:03 AM on April 6, 2010

Interesting, Kraftmatic, that's a more nuanced analysis of Thai-Chinese relations than I've been able to get elsewhere (and I really should read up on the Thai Chinese thing more, given I know only a very little about it and that only what I've experienced through the BFF's family). Looking at it a bit, I wonder how the concept of Ekkalak Thai (explained on a website I was reading as a sort of meta-Thai identity) plays into things. If you have any articles/books/whatever to recommend on the topic, I'm definitely all ears.

And yes, it's going to be a bumpy transition. No question. For me, I wonder what kind of government Thailand will have at the end of the transition, and whether western tourists will still flood Thailand post-transition with all its probable issues, and finally whether the poor will gain any meaningful power or merely get moved aside as has happened many times before in other places. Right now, my best (safe) guesses are dictatorship with a democratic veneer, yes if the transition isn't too violent or prolonged, and probably the poor will be just as powerless as before.

Also, I totally had Pad Thai for lunch today, so thanks for livening up my meal.
posted by librarylis at 12:44 AM on April 8, 2010

If anyone is still interested, a friend living in Bangkok forwarded me this youtube video depicting the violence of the other night. I ended up watching all three of this guy's installments. His manner of speaking is a little glib, but I thought it was worth watching. Quote of the day: "Who hands out cookies after a riot?!"

My dad has been living there for the past decade and working in the country his entire adult life, but he was caught off guard by how quickly the situation escalated. He went out shopping for pens and ended up hanging out in a barber shop for 4 hours!
posted by mustard seeds at 1:46 PM on April 11, 2010

Thai PM puts army chief in charge of security and from WSJ : - The door is closing on the old order as the prospects for negotiation dim.
posted by adamvasco at 10:55 AM on April 16, 2010

Q&A: Thailand protests
posted by adamvasco at 4:44 AM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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