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Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

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Showing posts for "Thailand"

Why Is Thailand Allergic to Democracy?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Anti-government protesters sweep the street around the Democracy Monument after weeks of protesting and days of clashes with police in Bangkok's city centre on December 4, 2013. (Dylan Martinez/Courtesy Reuters) Anti-government protesters sweep the street around the Democracy Monument after weeks of protesting and days of clashes with police in Bangkok's city centre on December 4, 2013. (Dylan Martinez/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past week, Thailand’s political unrest has descended into serious, chaotic violence. On Monday and Tuesday, protesters entered the grounds of both police headquarters and Government House, having already occupied other ministries. Despite a short truce to observe the king’s 86th birthday on December 5, the conflict is likely to start up again, since protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has vowed to keep on, and the deep divides in Thai society remain. Read more »

The U.S. Response to Thailand’s Unrest

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A Thai Buddhist monk puts on a gas mask as riot police use water cannon and tear gas while anti-government protesters attempt to remove barricades outside Government House in Bangkok on December 2, 2013. (Dylan Martinez/Courtesy Reuters) A Thai Buddhist monk puts on a gas mask as riot police use water cannon and tear gas while anti-government protesters attempt to remove barricades outside Government House in Bangkok on December 2, 2013. (Dylan Martinez/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the weekend, Thailand’s political unrest, which was already sliding downhill last week, took a turn for the worse. Clashes between anti-government demonstrators, pro-government demonstrators, police, and unidentified thugs resulted in four dead and dozens wounded over the weekend, and the police’s use of force was a blow to the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s promise to use non-violent measures to disperse protests. (The police have used tear gas, some other kind of burning gas, and, according to some media reports, rubber bullets.) The demonstrators show no sign of backing down, even following a meeting between Prime Minister Yingluck and the main protest leader, former Democrat Party politician Suthep Thaugsuban. Suthep has given the government a two-day ultimatum to hand over power. Demonstrators have ignored calls by the government to stay indoors at night and to call off their strikes. It is likely that, whatever kind of head is going to come to this conflict, it will come before December 5, the birthday of Thailand’s revered king. What’s more, the fact that Thailand’s military already has become involved in the crisis, trying to mediate between politicians and moving out to points around the city, is not a good sign for a peaceful resolution by civilians. Read more »

Thailand Heads Over the Cliff

by Joshua Kurlantzick
An injured anti-government protester is carried by comrades during clashes with police near the Government house in Bangkok on December 2, 2013. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters) An injured anti-government protester is carried by comrades during clashes with police near the Government house in Bangkok on December 2, 2013. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the weekend, Thailand’s unrest, centered in Bangkok, only went from bad to worse, with at least four people killed over the weekend, the anti-government demonstrations showing no sign of ending, and the country lurching closer to riots or a military intervention. In a piece for BloombergBusinessweek, I analyze why Thailand seems stuck in a perpetual cycle of political unrest, with no apparent solutions. Read the whole piece here.

Thailand on the Brink—Again

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Anti-government protesters wave flags while standing in heavy rain outside the Interior Ministry in Bangkok on November 26, 2013. Nearly 3,000 flag-waving anti-government protesters massed in front of Thailand's Interior Ministry on Tuesday, a day after they stormed compounds of two other ministries. (Kerek Wongsa/Courtesy Reuters) Anti-government protesters wave flags while standing in heavy rain outside the Interior Ministry in Bangkok on November 26, 2013. Nearly 3,000 flag-waving anti-government protesters massed in front of Thailand's Interior Ministry on Tuesday, a day after they stormed compounds of two other ministries. (Kerek Wongsa/Courtesy Reuters)

Left With No Bad Moves to Make, Yingluck Makes the Right One

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A protester holds a banner as thousands gather against the amnesty bill in Bangkok's central business district on November 6, 2013. The Thai Senate will likely reject an amnesty bill critics say is aimed at bringing back convicted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra from exile, the Senate Speaker said on Wednesday, a move that could defuse rising tension on the streets of Bangkok. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters) A protester holds a banner as thousands gather against the amnesty bill in Bangkok's central business district on November 6, 2013. The Thai Senate will likely reject an amnesty bill critics say is aimed at bringing back convicted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra from exile, the Senate Speaker said on Wednesday, a move that could defuse rising tension on the streets of Bangkok. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

Today Thailand time, after not only the opposition Democrats but also many members of her own coalition expressed fury at Thailand’s proposed amnesty bill, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government finally abandoned the legislation. The government announced that it will not seek to keep the bill alive if Thailand’s Senate rejects it later this week, as is now expected. Many senators already have come out and said they will reject the controversial amnesty bill, making it likely a majority of the Senate will vote it down—a shocking turn of events, since Yingluck normally has de facto control of the upper house and most analysts (including me) expected she would be able to ram the bill through the Senate. Read more »

Thailand: It’s On (Again)

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A protester hits a picture of Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in central Bangkok on November 4, 2013. Thousands of people took to the streets of the Thai capital as their mass protest continues after lawmakers approved a draft political amnesty bill that could allow the return of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, one of Thailand's most polarizing figures. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters) A protester hits a picture of Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in central Bangkok on November 4, 2013. Thousands of people took to the streets of the Thai capital as their mass protest continues after lawmakers approved a draft political amnesty bill that could allow the return of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, one of Thailand's most polarizing figures. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

Like classic adversaries in a game of brinkmanship who lose control and then have no choice but to follow through on their threats, Thailand’s two major opposing political groupings now have gone too far to retreat. On Friday the Puea Thai Party pushed the controversial amnesty bill through the lower house of Parliament, with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra reportedly calling in all Puea Thai MPs and telling them they had to vote for the bill, even though some had reservations about how it provides amnesty for security forces involved in killing red shirt protesters in Bangkok in 2009 and 2010. Today, the bill will almost surely pass the Senate. Read more »

First Draft of a New Book on Thailand’s Monarchy

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn assists Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he delivers his birthday speech from the balcony of the Grand Palace together with Queen Sirikit, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, Princess Chulabhorn and other members of royal family in Bangkok on December 5, 2011. (Courtesy Reuters) Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn assists Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he delivers his birthday speech from the balcony of the Grand Palace together with Queen Sirikit, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, Princess Chulabhorn and other members of royal family in Bangkok on December 5, 2011. (Courtesy Reuters)

Although Thailand’s monarchy is, other than the few remaining traditional monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Brunei, probably the most powerful royal family in the world, it has been the subject of very few serious written works. This lack of real analysis and insight into the royal family is hardly surprising: Thailand’s lese majeste laws are the strictest in the world, even the most oblique references to the royal family can land you in jail in Bangkok, and it’s not exactly easy to find sources in the extended royal family to go on the record. Prosecutions under the lese majeste law have skyrocketed in the past decade, according to scholar David Streckfuss, because the law increasingly has been used as a weapon by various political sides in Thailand, and even by people who just have a vendetta against an associate. (In one infamous case, a man charged his brother with lese majeste, though the case eventually was dismissed after it became apparent that this was simply a situation of family acrimony.) Read more »

Thailand Headed for Political Meltdown—Again

by Joshua Kurlantzick
An anti-government protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask holds a picture of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej during a protest in Bangkok's shopping district on August 18, 2013. Several hundred people marched through central Bangkok to protest against the amnesty bill, saying it could help ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra return from exile without having to serve a jail sentence. (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy Reuters) An anti-government protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask holds a picture of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej during a protest in Bangkok's shopping district on August 18, 2013. Several hundred people marched through central Bangkok to protest against the amnesty bill, saying it could help ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra return from exile without having to serve a jail sentence. (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy Reuters)

Thailand, which has gone through one political crisis after the next for nearly a decade now, appears poised for more political turmoil. Most of the factors that have caused previous periods of unrest are now locking into place once again. The ruling Puea Thai Party, though democratically elected, has taken its mandate as a license to operate like an elected dictatorship, and now is trying to push through parliament a misguided, potentially damaging amnesty law. The law, as Human Rights Watch notes in a summary, would prevent prosecutions of nearly everyone involved in political protests and counterprotests in Thailand in recent years. The amnesty would apply to members of the security forces who killed at least seventy protesters in Bangkok in 2009 and 2010 and the leaders of the government at that time who oversaw these massacres.  The law also potentially would make it easier for the return to Thailand of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the leader—though in exile—of the Puea Thai party and a potent symbol to Thailand’s rural voters, who have continued to back Thaksin and his party for more than a decade. With the law, Thaksin could potentially return to Thailand without having to face any accountability for his time as prime minister, when he oversaw a “war on drugs” that led to thousands of unaccounted for deaths, or any accountability for corruption charges that were laid against him after he was deposed from office. Read more »

Talks With Thai Insurgents Stall

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Thick smoke rises from a burning police truck as rubber farmers clash with riot police in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, south of Bangkok on September 16, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) Thick smoke rises from a burning police truck as rubber farmers clash with riot police in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, south of Bangkok on September 16, 2013. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

The Thai government recently announced that its peace talks with several representatives of the southern Thai insurgents have been postponed indefinitely. As Anthony Davis notes in an excellent piece on Asia Times, this step was hardly a surprise; since Ramadan, when there was supposed to be a temporary cease-fire, violence has once again surged in the south, while Army Commander in Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered forces in the south to take more aggressive measures. The meaning of the aggressive measures order became clear when Thai forces tracked down and then shot and killed one insurgent commander in early October. In response, over the past two weeks the insurgents have launched a string of attacks. As Davis notes, the insurgents have had little trouble placing bombs right in the middle of key towns in the south, and at major targets that one would think would be better protected. Read more »

Will There Be Another Asian Economic Meltdown?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A pawn shop worker sorts through gold jewellery at Easy Money Pawn shop in Bangkok on August 27, 2013. Faced with rising living costs and unable to wait until pay day, growing numbers of Southeast Asians are putting their gold jewelry and designer watches in hock, creating a boom in pawnshops across Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Thailand's largest private pawnshop operator, Easy Money, has seen a 15-20 percent rise in the number of customers in recent months, especially in areas near Bangkok, said Managing Director Sittiwit Tangthanakiat. (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy Reuters) A pawn shop worker sorts through gold jewellery at Easy Money Pawn shop in Bangkok on August 27, 2013. Faced with rising living costs and unable to wait until pay day, growing numbers of Southeast Asians are putting their gold jewelry and designer watches in hock, creating a boom in pawnshops across Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Thailand's largest private pawnshop operator, Easy Money, has seen a 15-20 percent rise in the number of customers in recent months, especially in areas near Bangkok, said Managing Director Sittiwit Tangthanakiat. (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy Reuters)

Since the middle of this summer, emerging markets, particularly in Asia, have witnessed massive sell-offs of their bonds, enormous slides in their stock markets, and investors dumping their currencies as fast as they can. Many Asian and foreign analysts of Asian nations now worry that the easy credit masked huge problems in the foundations of emerging economies, and that Asia could witness an economic and financial crisis similar to the devastating meltdown that crushed the region in the late 1990s. This time, such a crisis would be even tougher for the world to withstand: emerging markets are far larger than they were 15 years ago, and a crisis in Asia could take down the entire international economy. Read more »