Protests over as Thai Elections completed – but why were there protests in the first place?
03 February 2014
Thailand has been under scrutiny over the last few weeks as the world’s media has been covering the political issues surrounding the countries government. The problem is not a lot of people are aware of the reasons why and how the protests started in the first place. Here is a brief explanation of where it all started from.
Thai Politics Timeline
In 1998 Thaksin Shinawatra, a Thai business tycoon turned politician who founded Advanced Info Service (AIS), Thailand’s most successful mobile phone operator decided to enter politics and founded the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party. After a historic election victory in 2001, he became prime minister, the country’s first to serve a full term. Thaksin introduced a range of policies to alleviate rural poverty; highly popular, they helped reduce poverty by half in four years. He launched the country’s first universal healthcare program as well as a highly notorious drug suppression campaign. Thaksin embarked on a massive program of infrastructure investment, including roads, public transit, and Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok International.
Thaksin was popular with the majority of the Thai people until he was overthrown in 2006 in a military coup (backed by the Democratic Party) and accused of abusing his powers as Thai Prime Minister. The Shinawartra government faced allegations of corruption, authoritarianism, treason, conflicts of interest, acting non-diplomatically, and muzzling of the press. Thaksin was also personally accused of tax evasion, lèse majesté (insulting the King of Thailand), and selling assets of Thai companies to international investors.
In 2006 The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) – also known as Red Shirts was formed to oppose the military government and the military coup, which overthrew Thaksin five weeks before scheduled elections. UDD organized anti-government rallies during the military government’s rule in 2006–2007 and opposed the military’s 2007 constitution. The UDD stopped protests after the 2007 general election, which the People’s Power Party won.
Around the same time an opposing group The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) – also know as Yellow Shirts was formed. A coalition of protesters against Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand. The PAD consists of mainly of royalist upper and middle-class Bangkokians and Southerners, supported by some factions of the Thai Army, some leaders of Democrat Party, and members of state-enterprise labour unions.
2008 – 2011
After being overthrown in 2006 and living in exile for two years, Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand 2008, after the People’s Power Party, the new political party in which he supported, won the post-coup elections. Upon his return he was summoned to court for allegations against him but later jumped bail when court permission was given to him to attend the Olympics in China. Thaksin never returned to Thailand and has not done so since.
Later that year the People’s Power Party was dissolved and its executive board was banned from political activity for life due to more corrupt allegations from opposition leaders. However some of the MPs formed a new party called the ‘Pheu Thai Party’.
In May 2011, the Pheu Thai Party, which maintains close ties to Thaksin, nominated Yingluck Shinawatra (Thaksin’s sister) as their candidate for Prime Minister in the 2011 general election. Pheu Thai campaigned with a slogan of “Thaksin Thinks, Pheu Thai Does” calling out to the Shinawatra faithful who felt he was unjustly convicted, campaigned on a platform of national reconciliation, poverty eradication, and corporate income tax reduction, but the ruling Democratic Party (opposition) claimed that she would act primarily in the interests of her exiled brother.
The Pheu Thai Party won a landslide victory with 47% of the vote, winning 265 seats in the 500 seat House of Representatives of Thailand, it was only the second time in Thai political history that a single party won a parliamentary majority, the first party was her brother’s party, the Thai Rak Thai Party. Clearly a party favoured by the majority of Thai voters.
This caused outrage in the Yellow Shirts camp and took to the streets once again protesting against the new regime. Some protests turned into violent clashes with the Red Shirts causing the media to increase coverage and forced some governments to warn tourists not to travel to Thailand during these times.
2011 – Present
The last 3 years has seen the Pheu Thai Party win another election and has sparked even more fury within the opposition. The group has long alleged that Yingluck’s government is controlled by her brother – ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra – and accuse his allies of buying rural votes.
The opposition (The Democrat Party), has not won a majority in parliament for more than 20 years. The most recent protests have been led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a Thai politician and was secretary-general of the Democrat Party, deputy prime minister under the unelected Democrat-led government. Which to some unjustly took power away from the Shinawatra government in 2006. He resigned his seat in Parliament in November 2013 to become the self-appointed Secretary-general of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, and is now conducting mass protests to try to unseat the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whom they accuse of being corrupt and a puppet for her self-exiled brother, Thaksin.
An escalation in protest action in central Bangkok since 13 January has caused significant disruption to roads in affected areas, with knock-on effects across the city. The main protest sites are at the major intersections of Sala Daeng, Asoke, Ratchaprasong, Pathumwan, Victory Monument, Lat Phrao and at the government complex at Chaeng Watthana. Some protest sites are located close to shopping malls where there have been violent clashes between parties.
A nationwide election was called for 2 February and there were protests and some violence when polling stations opened for advanced voting on 26 January. On 2 February there was some protests with the aim to blockade polling stations in parts of the capital and the south, preventing millions of people from voting. The protesters are demanding a reform of the political system and want the government to be replaced with an unelected “people’s council.”
Yinglick Shinawatra’s ruling party is expected to be victorious once more when the outcome of the election is finally announced.
How does this affect us/you?
As we have already stated, and as Luke pointed out in his last blog, this round of protests have been peaceful protests with no police intervention or clashes with protestors. However, a very small number of people (literally a handful) have tried to cause trouble, resulting in a few violent incidents in small, isolated areas of Bangkok. Unfortunately this is what the media have been focusing on (as usual, they will bend the truth and quite often make things up in order to increase ratings and sell more papers) with many news channels throwing the words ‘violence’ and ‘riot’ around to aid the scare mongering. If you have been in Bangkok as we have for the last few weeks you will have seen a completely different Bangkok to that shown in the news and would almost certainly not describe the protests as ‘riots’.
Our groups have not been affected in the slightest and we would certainly not be running them if we felt that it would put any of our staff or customers in danger. We will not be taking any of our groups anywhere near the protest zones so those of you wondering whether or not it is safe to travel with us in Thailand at the moment really need not worry.
Below are links to two informative articles written by people in Bangkok (one is by our very own group leader Luke, the other by a popular travel blogger Robert Schrader) which we feel more accurately describe the situation in Bangkok through the eyes of someone who is actually here. Feel free to have a read of this and if you still have any questions/concerns about heading over to Thailand and coming on a trip with us then feel free to get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44(0)2035422463 UK or +66(0)911938013 Thailand – we would be happy to talk and answer any of your questions.