Thai Crisis (with Comics)

My policy in this blog is to keep it 90%+ focused on manga, anime and the doujin scene.  As I’m meeting this target comfortably, I hope you won’t mind if I write up a post about the political situation in my land of residence: Thailand.  And for the love of God, if you’re not interested then go ahead and skip it!!!  I’ll censor myself a bit because of the situation and all, but I think for those of you interested this will present a clearer picture than you’re bound to get abroad.

Pic from the United Nations F.A.O.

Pic from the United Nations F.A.O.

First off you have to understand that Thailand, like most places on Earth, is not totally homogeneous, but rather split into four very well-defined historical and cultural regions, as you can see in the map.  Further, you have to keep in mind that the nucleus of the modern Thai state is the Central Region.

The Center used to be known as the Kingdom of Ayutthaya.  Ayutthaya expanded toward the South hundreds of years ago, and so today Center and South get along quite well.  I’ll go on a limb and say that the Center is like England and the South is like Wales.

The North used to be an independent kingdom called Lanna, but after awhile it lost its power and was under alternating Ayutthayan and Burmese rule until Siam (successor of Ayutthaya) finally absorbed it.  So the North is sort of like Scotland in my analogy.


The country's divided into 3 factions just like Cambodia!

Then there’s the Northeast.  This area is culturally Lao, and it went back and forth between Ayutthayan/Siamese and Laotian rule, until eventually all of Laos was taken over by Siam.  In the era of colonialism the French took away what today is called Laos and so in essence the Laotian people are today split between an independent (Marxist) state and the Northeastern region of Thailand.

So, the Northeast is like Northern Ireland in my analogy, except that in this case the area under Thai rule is much larger than the independent Laos.  Plus, I’ve never known of any Northeasterners who’d like to break off from Thailand and join Laos.  If anything, it is Laotians who tend to look to Thailand longingly.

Up until now, Central Thais, especially those in the capital of Bangkok, have run the country.  The official dialect, cultural norms, aesthetic standards, are all based on Central Thailand.  A semi-democratic system punctuated by numerous coups has been in place for decades, and at times the Prime Minister has been from outside the Central Region, but the status quo has been maintained.

In 2001 Thaksin Shinawatra was elected Prime Minister, and things began to change.  Thaksin is from the North, and extremely wealthy.  He became the first real populist leader in Thailand.  Demographically speaking, there are more people in the North and Northeast put together than in the Center-South.  Thaksin built up support in the first two areas, bypassing the Central elites completely, and assured himself of electoral victories.


I'm sure it won't be like that...

Thaksin’s political party by 2006 had overwhelming support in the Northeast (largest population in the country), a decisive majority in the North, a substantial minority of support in the Center (outside of Bangkok, mostly) and absolutely no support in the South (which is the least populated region in the country).  Do the math.

The elites did, and a new movement (the yellow shirts) was set up to rally for his ouster.  The yellow shirts’ political program includes (I am not making this up!) the notion that something like one third of the Parliament should be appointed by the Royal Household, instead of having 100% of its members be popularly elected like now.  The yellow shirts began to push the Army to stage a coup to take Thaksin out of power.  They did, his party was banned, and at the moment he remains in exile.

The new military government wrote a new constitution and submitted it to a referendum.  The choices were a) Yes and b) No.  If the majority of the people chose “No”, the Army announced it would then feel free to pick any of the dozen or so previous constitutions and use that.  The people voted Yes.

We're just like the one Cambodia!

We'll be just like one Cambodia!

So new elections were held, and the pro-Thaksin party won.  The courts, composed mostly of judges selected by the Bangkok elite, threw out the Prime Minister because he had a cooking show.  Now, everyone knew the man was cooking (he was on TV!) so you’d have though they would warn him first (not to mention he claimed he wasn’t getting paid for it), but no, out he went.

So the pro-Thaksin party chose a new Prime Minister named Somchai Wongsawat.  Mr. Somchai was an intelligent, soft-spoken fellow with a clean image, the sort of man who would not make silly political mistakes.  The yellow shirts proceeded to take over the airport.  The PM begged law enforcement to clear them out but they refused to act.  Then the courts forced Somchai out because his party was found guilty of vote-buying.

Now, at this point pro-Thaksin supporters still held a majority of seats in Parliament.  But soon enough rumors began to spread in the newspaper that the Army was trying to talk to one of the pro-Thaksin factions into switching sides and support the Democrat party candidate.  The leader of the faction didn’t deny this in the least.  Quite the opposite, he said that for the good of the nation he would abandon his party and support the Democrats (which had supported the coup from the start).  So now we have a new Prime Minister, Mr. Abhisit.


Why are you parking like this? And what's that alcohol smell?!

You’d figure that the majority of the Thai population would be well ticked off after three prime ministers of the party it elected had been thrown out like that.  A new movement, the red shirts, was born, calling for PM Abhisit’s resignation and new elections.  They stormed the ASEAN summit and fought with a group of mysterious blue shirt fellows of which there is good evidence that they were plainclothes soldiers.

The Army, the courts, everyone who crossed their arms when the yellow shirts stormed the airport, quickly came out to destroy the red shirts.  The red-shirt TV channel went off the air yesterday morning.  Radio transmissions were cut.  Internet websites broadcasting from the red shirts were banned one after another, netizens going from one site to the next on an hourly basis. You can imagine how hard the situation is for the red shirts: Bangkok is about the most hostile environment for them, but because it is the capital if they want to change things they must gather there.

There’s been talk (even images) of people being shot and then carted off to hide the evidence, but from what I see the international news stations are accepting the govt. version that only 2 people have died, and these at the hands of the red shirts.


We're just following govt. policy...

Thaksin is no saint.  He had a scandal just before his first election which most analysts believe he should have been disqualified for, but he was (infamously) acquitted by the courts…  Then again, the way the law works in Thailand is like this: there are more laws in the book than you could count, but most of them are unenforced.  So why have them?  Well, because they’re unenforced most people just break them.  If and when a political figure becomes undesirable, then the elite-run courts have tons of infractions to convict that person of.  Very useful.

Thaksin used to own a massive telecom corporation.  People complained that being PM was incompatible with owning such a powerful business so he ended up selling it to a group from Singapore.  Then the people were outraged that he sold a telecom company to foreigners.  What gives?

The current situation here is so flagrant, even intellectuals who detest Thaksin are supporting the red shirts.  After all, if the people elect him then it’s his opponents’ job to convince the people that he’s a bad choice, etc..  I actually respect the yellow shirts a bit, simply because they speak out what’s in their hearts: they honestly want Bangkok and Central Thais to rule the country, and to hell with democracy, period.


Don't drink and drive!

I’m much more irked by the “Democrat Party” and the newspapers, especially the Bangkok-based English-language newspapers, which are lying so blatantly it just sickens me.  And of course this has consequences, because for most foreign residents in the kingdom this their only news source.  I’ve read of press propaganda in history and stuff, but to actually see it happen is thoroughly disgusting.

So we have a regional conflict, a class conflict and who knows what else.  Growing pains?  Maybe.

PS: The first last 3 panels are from the Thai Rath, the last first 3 are from the Daily News.

~ by Haloed Bane on April 14, 2009.

6 Responses to “Thai Crisis (with Comics)”

  1. Ok, I don’t want to start a Thai political war in your anime blog. So please allow me to say this to other readers that may come across this entry: I have the almost opposite opinion from the author. It is Thaksin who did the most “disgusting” thing and destroy the democracy, including media cencorship. I’m not here to convince anyone, I’m saying this to let people that there is a different opinion (and I’m NOT from the elite class).

  2. No the first three was from DailyNews and the last three are from ThaiRath. I recognised the drawing. lol

    I just wanna say that Thai politics are more complex that what we ‘commoners’ are allowed to see. Media censorship is an ongoing stuff. I swear to god it does not start with Thaksin and that Thaksin related-news is not the one that are censored. Moreover, like you mention how CNN showed dead bodies being dragged around yet they’re still firmly said there are only two deaths! If that’s not media censorship, if that’s not disgusting, then my gosh you disgusted me.
    Me, too, is just voicing my opinion. I’m not changing anyone and no one can change me. I am not from the elite class. I’m just your normal middleclass lady.

  3. @Hyper

    Yes, there are many people with a diametrically opposite view from mine. Hopefully readers will read my views, your views, then do some research and decide.


    Thanks for the correction! Yes, censorship is everywhere. Even my post is somewhat self-censored. Anyway, I’m sure all of us love Thailand and hope everything will turn out for the best.

  4. Oh those politics. As relatively non-political as I am, I can’t help but get giddy thinking that all the time, choices are made and movements created that change nations and by default, the world. Geass, fuck off.

  5. Oh now this is fascinating matters. Over here nearly all news I’ve got a hold of only say “group A with red shirts do this against the blue shirts while there’s other people with mauve shirts” without even telling us why. In general, “why” seems to be a more or less under-asked question in contemporary journalism for some reason.
    So my gratitude for putting this in some sort of context for us befuddled Northeners. Here’s to the day this mess is replaced by a country-wide rainbow-coloured-shirt festivity, or what positive come may.

  6. @prophet

    The balance between the influence of great actors and the large masses is a headache-inducing problem, and if you throw ethnic and class issues into the mix, oh boy!!


    You’re welcome. I guess if news stations were going to give in-depth, intelligent analyses on every conflict in the world they wouldn’t have time for commercial ads…

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