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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.