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The Thai Anguish

Protests have yet again set the city of Bangkok ablaze. Does this new wave of uprisings show that a feeling of unease plagues the Thai population?

Violent demonstrations paralyzed the Thai capital on November 24th, 2012. Occurring only too frequently in this country, these events oppose the royalist “yellow shirts”, with the “red shirt” partisans of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), a party supported by the previous Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

It is not surprising that this year, the “yellow shirts” protest once again against Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, who became Prime Minister in 2011. The protests’ main motives have remained the same two years after they first took place. The opposition to the actual party in power (the Pheu Thai party) protest against the possible exoneration of corruption charges for which Thaksin Shinawatra has been sentenced. In addition, they manifest against the 50% rise in the price of rice, which, according to them, would cause Thailand to lose its leading position in rice exportation. What is Thaksin reproached for?

Influent Thai businessman, Thaksin strategically used the country’s rural North to be elected. He secured votes by emphasizing  the social and economical inequalities between this region and the more developed urban areas. He implemented many economic reforms that have been beneficial, especially to the farmers living in isolated areas.

In order to reduce by half the poverty in Thailand, he built numerous schools and created the country’s social security system. His economic knowledge has been decisive in Thailand’s survival to the Asian financial crisis, and for the reimbursement of the country’s debt to the IMF. Additionally, he initiated a war against drug traffickers in the opium-rich Golden Triangle, the region where Thailand meets Myanmar and Laos.

But once a businessman, always a businessman. Thaksin could not resist using his position of power to expand his personal empire. The Shinawatra family still controls a considerable part of the Thai media. But the sale of the family’s shares of the Shin Corporation, a telecommunications company, to Temasek Holdings, a Singaporean firm, reveals an evident conflict of interest and numerous legal manipulations. Dating back to 2006, this sale, amounting to about 1.9$ billion dollars, caused Thaksin’s reign to end.

He was accused of being one of the planet’s most corrupt individuals. His war on drugs was tainted by a policy consisting in eliminating anyone presumed guilty of participating in drug trafficking. This policy was condemned by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, who was outraged by the number of deaths in this operation, which rose to 2500 in 2003 alone. Furthermore, his control of the media enabled him to manipulate and censor information: the freedom of the press is still a utopia in Thailand.

The “yellow shirts’” popular manifestations, discretely supported by the king, almighty in Thailand, and more directly by the army, finally got the better of Thaksin, despite the eternal support of the “red shirts”, who at times died to defend their hero.

The strong stand taken by the Thai people of both parties, and its massive participation in polemical political protests, display a growing rift between cities and rural areas. In the cities, and especially in the booming capital, the democratic values upheld by the elected are a priority. However, in rural regions, political action and campaigns are judged on immediate results, without taking into account the means used.

The Thai people’s political activity reveals great hope for the development of democracy. A crisis-struck Thai society is unveiled: the growing differences between aspirations in rural areas and the wishes of city-dwellers tear at the social fabric. Discontent is shown by a majority who seldom sees the advantages of a growing economy and a country undergoing transformation.

– Géraldine Villeroux

Translated from French by Matthieu Charriaud: read the original article here.


(featured image:AttributionK.rol2007, Creative Commons, Flickr)

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