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Showing posts for "Thaksin"

Thailand’s Royal Succession Battle Comes Into (Slightly) More Open View

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-royal-guard-king's-birthday-2014 Thai Royal Guards ride their horses in front of the Grand Palace during a military parade as a part of a celebration for the upcoming birthday of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in Bangkok, on December 2, 2014. The revered king, the world's longest reigning monarch, will turn 87-years-old on December 5 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

This post is part of a series on Thai leadership.

The past ten years of political turmoil in Thailand have revolved around several contentious challenges. A growing, politically empowered, and vocal working class in Thailand’s provinces has clashed with traditional Bangkok elites. Shifts in Thailand’s constitutions have led to a two-party system, rather than the old multi-party politics, but the two-party system has struggled to effectively represent the interests of a majority of Thais. The Thai military, once thought to be under civilian control, has reasserted its power throughout the past decade, while other institutions have failed to control the military’s resurgence. Violent street protests have emerged as a weapon to bring down governments, with no consequences for the violent demonstrators, a development that only fosters more violent protests. Read more »

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 »

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 »

Bangkok Election Reinforces Class Divide

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Thailand's prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra prepares to cast her ballot in the election for Bangkok's governor in a polling station in Bangkok March 3, 2013. Thailand's prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra prepares to cast her ballot in the election for Bangkok's governor in a polling station in Bangkok March 3, 2013 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters).

On Sunday, Bangkokians turned out in record-breaking numbers to cast their votes in the city’s gubernatorial election—the first such contest since the violent red-shirt protests that engulfed the capital in the spring of 2010. The incumbent MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra of the Democrat Party was elected for a second term with 1.25 million votes. Equally notable was the fact that, for the first time, a runner-up—in this case, Pongsapat Pongcharoen of the Peau Thai party—received more than one million votes. As Bangkok Pundit notes, the mere 178,000 votes that separated the candidates marked the narrowest margin in the history of Bangkok elections. Read more »

When the Middle Class Revolts

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Supporters of yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy react to the speech from the stage during a rally near the Government house in Bangkok. Supporters of the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy react to a speech during a rally near the Government house in Bangkok (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters).

Over on Bangkok Pundit, a translation of an op-ed recently published in the Thai publication Matichon offers some revealing quotes from Senator Somjate Boonthanom, the former general who helped lead the 2006 coup that toppled the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. “The elected ones like to refer to the election process as being democracy,” explained Somajate, “From elections, the people choose, but still corruption. Therefore, it is not proof that coming from elections is the best. Democracy that steals from the nation, I view it as worse than a military dictatorship.”

Of course, such statements are of little surprise from an appointed Senator whose power, as Bangkok Pundit notes, was not derived from the ballot box, but from a coup against an elected government. But General Somjate is far from alone in his sentiments. Read more »

Obama Heads to Southeast Asia Amid Regional Tensions

by Joshua Kurlantzick
President Barack Obama waves at the door of Air Force One; The U.S. president will travel to Southeast Asia November 16-21, 2012. President Barack Obama waves at the door of Air Force One; The U.S. president will travel to Southeast Asia November 16-21, 2012 (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters).

As President Barack Obama sets off this weekend for a historic trip to Southeast Asia, he arrives at a high point for himself —and a low point for the region. Obama, making his first trip since winning re-election at the polls, will be the first sitting American president to visit Myanmar. The country has undoubtedly embarked upon historic reforms, yet is also embroiled in brutal ethnic violence. Thailand, another stop on Obama’s trip, is bracing for what could be a hugely disruptive leadership succession fight. In Cambodia, he will attend the East Asia Summit, as well as the Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an organization in the throes of a crisis. Read more »

Thailand: Reconciliation Fails

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A member of Nation Associate Anti-Corruption Network (NACN) holds a placard during a rally outside the U.S. embassy in Bangkok August 10, 2012. A member of Nation Associate Anti-Corruption Network (NACN) holds a placard during a rally outside the U.S. embassy in Bangkok August 10, 2012 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters).

After some time on vacation, I have returned to find that Thai politics, which almost couldn’t get worse, actually has. Last month, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, in my opinion the most astute observer of Thai politics, captured the fundamental tension in Thailand today in an op-ed:

Thailand’s problem is that those who keep winning elections are not allowed to rule, whereas others who ultimately call the shots cannot win elections. [Thanks to Bangkok Pundit for pointing me to Thitinan’s op-ed]

 That, in a nutshell, is Thailand’s dilemma, one shared by many middle-income developing nations where middle classes are becoming increasingly skeptical of the benefits of democratization, as I discuss in my forthcoming book The Decline of Democracy (Yale University Press). Read more »

The Return of Banned Thai Politicians

by Joshua Kurlantzick
The return of many Puea Thai politicians will likely strengthen the government of Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (pictured). (Lukas Coch/Courtesy Reuters) The return of many Puea Thai politicians will likely strengthen the government of Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (pictured). (Lukas Coch/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past year, since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected in July 2011, the balance of power has shifted precariously, back and forth, between the Thaksin/Red Shirt/ Puea Thai forces and the establishment pro-royalist forces, allied with the army. As Asia Times has written in several comprehensive pieces, the army, which cast serious dishonor upon itself with the killings in the streets of Bangkok in the spring of 2010, restored some of its positive image through effective relief work during the floods of 2010, at a time when the Yingluck government seemed to be flailing in handling the crisis. Read more »

The Demolition of Democracy in Thailand

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Red shirt protesters hold a picture of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra at a gathering to mark the second anniversary of a government crackdown on red shirt protestors in Bangkok May 19, 2012. Red shirt protesters hold a picture of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra at a gathering to mark the second anniversary of a government crackdown on red shirt protestors in Bangkok May 19, 2012 (Sukree Sukplang/Courtesy Reuters).

With the ousting of the military regime in 1992, Thailand emerged as a regional beacon of democracy. The international monitoring organization Freedom House even ranked Thailand a “free” country in its 1999 report—one of only a few Asian countries to receive this designation. Over the past six years, however, democracy has retreated rapidly in Thailand. Today, the imminent return of Thaksin, the current government’s oppressive wielding of the draconian lèse-majesté law, and the deteriorating health of the beloved King, all suggest that this fragile “democracy” may be on the precipice of yet another crisis. Read more »