Monday, October 23, 2017
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By Chris Blake

Cod Satrusayang’s family has found a way out of their Thai crisis. They’ve stopped talking about politics.

Until that deal was made, Cod said, most gatherings would end in a fight. Cod’s mother, who comes from a wealthy family, sides with protesters calling for an appointed council to run the country, while his father, from a lower-income family, says elections should decide who governs.

Cod’s family is not alone in its differences. Eight years of turmoil have exposed rifts throughout society, between rich and poor, urban and rural, north and south. The polarization has become so entrenched that even if Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is eventually declared the winner of the election held Feb. 2, it is unlikely to bring respite to a kingdom some analysts have said is lurching toward civil war.

“It’s actually dividing us more than just on a regional level but in many cases on a family level,” said Cod, a 28-year-old Bangkok-based writer. “There is definitely a fundamental schism within Thai society and it’s not going to be resolved soon. Honestly if my parents can’t even see eye to eye when they’re sitting at a dinner table, I don’t see how the bigger picture works.”

Suthep Thaugsuban, the former opposition party powerbroker leading protests to oust Yingluck, has cast his movement as a fight of good against evil and called on the military, civil servants and everyday citizens to choose a side. The tensions have dimmed the prospect of a compromise to end the protests, which have led to 10 deaths since October and left Thailand without a functioning parliament, raising the possibility of intervention by the monarchy or military.

Digging Bunkers

“Both sides are now digging their bunkers deeper and deeper,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher in Bangkok for Human Rights Watch. “They don’t listen to each other. They don’t even know what is outside their bunker. And with this bunker, you’ve got to jump into one or the other. They don’t respect people who simply sit on top.”

The split is partly rooted in the five-year rule of Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and whose allies have won the past five elections. A billionaire telecommunications tycoon, Thaksin swept to power on promises such as cheap health care that made him popular in the rural north and northeast, even as the opposition Democrat Party retained its traditional stronghold in the south.

Before Thaksin, politicians had a “very distant” relationship with the nation’s poor, said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University. “Political parties weren’t built from below, they were built from above. Thaksin came along, made promises and then delivered on his promises.”

Thaksin Enemies

Still, Bangkok’s middle class bristled at Thaksin’s “tendency toward tyranny,” Chambers said. Thaksin would talk of being prime minister for 20 years and say that he saw no problem with a strong, single-party government. Local and international rights groups accused him of infringing on media freedom, and said his war on drugs led to extra-judicial deaths.

Thaksin also tested two powerful groups: Those close to the palace and the military, Chambers said. Many royalists thought Thaksin was “stealing the king’s thunder” with his populism, while he angered generals by trying to exert civilian control over the armed forces.

Ultimately, Thaksin was ousted on the grounds that he was corrupt, had abused his power and disrespected the monarchy, and now lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid a jail term for a corruption conviction.

Red, Yellow

Thailand has a history of instability, with 11 coups since the end of direct rule by kings in 1932. Until Thaksin, no prime minister had ever served a full term. Even so, the turmoil has worsened since 2006 as more people have fallen into one of two camps: Red or yellow.

The current protesters are aligned with the original yellow-shirt movement, best known for seizing Bangkok’s two airports during a 2008 campaign to bring down a Thaksin-allied government.

In broad terms, the yellow side comprises Bangkok’s middle class, royalists and retired generals who see politicians as corrupt and the poor as easily swayed. They have called for several versions of an appointed government and are aligned with the Democrats, who have not won a national vote since 1992 and boycotted the recent poll as well as a 2006 election.

On the other side is the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or red shirts, who point to the coup and subsequent court rulings that dissolved parties allied with Thaksin as proof that Thai society is unjust and filled with double standards. They took to the streets in both 2009 and 2010, calling for new elections.

Values Clash

At its heart, the split is “a clash of two values in politics: One that is rooted in people’s power and one that belongs to the aristocracy,” Sunai said. It “has been going on since the overthrow of absolute monarchy and has has kind of lingered on.”

The divide has created a chilling effect on people who want to remain neutral, he said.

“Both sides see their struggle as the absolute good, which cannot be,” Sunai said. “It leaves no room for challenge, for criticism. And when you challenge something that is so absolutely good, you become absolutely evil. And that’s why there is no mercy for critics.”

It is still possible to prevent civil war, Sunai said. Still, “if we don’t have breathing space now, if violence doesn’t stop now, we fear for the worst.”

Pheu Thai

The current protests began when Yingluck’s government tried to pass an amnesty bill that would have thrown out most post-coup political charges, including those against Thaksin. The bill was also disliked by many red shirts because it would have spared politicians who ordered a deadly army crackdown on their protest in 2010, including Suthep.

Once the bill was tabled, the protest morphed into a broader bid to topple Yingluck and then to stop the election. While Yingluck denies her brother is still in charge, her Pheu Thai party campaigned in 2011 on the slogan “Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai acts.” The protesters have said no election held under the current system would be fair due to Thaksin’s influence.

“The protesters have bought into this very much outdated rhetoric of vote buying and they believe either that the Pheu Thai party is literally buying votes, or that the populist spending policies in which the Pheu Thai party involves itself are tantamount to buying votes,” said Michael Montesano, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

‘Losing Touch’

Part of the misunderstanding is due to urban Thais “losing touch with realities in provincial Thailand,” where increased off-farm employment, education and economic growth has left many aware of the importance of politics in improving their lives, Montesano said.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University and author of “Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and His Foreign Policy,” agrees the unrest goes beyond Thaksin and corruption.

“It’s about the overall anxiety of the traditional elite, the older power, who can’t accept the shift in the political landscape,” he said.

Royal Question

One undercurrent of the tensions that hinders a swift resolution is concern over the next royal succession, with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch, now 86 and ailing.

“In many ways, the nervousness is about who gets to be close to the next king and who gets to play a leading role in the next reign,” Montesano said. “Part of the urgency Suthep is showing is due to this fear that a Thaksinite government will be in power when the king passes away and that will allow the Thaksinite government to play some leading role in managing the transition.”

The protest movement under the People’s Democratic Reform Committee is independent of the monarchy, said Akanat Promphan, a spokesman for Suthep. “The PDRC, like all Thais, holds a deep reverence for this institution that remains separate from the current conflict,” Akanat said in an e-mailed statement.

‘Hate Everyone’

Cod said for everyday Thais it is hard to see a way out of the divide. Rather than pick a side, he has chosen to “hate everyone equally.”

“I think once you become acquainted with the system and you know what’s going on, the rational position is to hate everything. Think about it. What’s to love?”

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — After disrupting a national election, anti-government demonstrators in Thailand have vowed to keep up their campaign against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The troubled election Sunday, which was boycotted by the main opposition party, appears unlikely to resolve Thailand’s protracted political crisis, which has fueled bouts of deadly unrest in the Southeast Asian country.

During the tense election process, anti-government protesters stopped candidates from registering, blocked delivery of ballot boxes and prevented people from casting their votes. As a result, voting was disrupted in 69 out of the country’s 375 electoral districts, authorities said.

The demonstrators have been protesting since November, saying they want to rid Thailand of the influence of Yingluck and her older brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in exile.

Protest leaders are demanding that an unelected “people’s council” be given the power to carry out political and electoral changes in a country where parties affiliated with Thaksin have dominated elections since 2001.

Disrupted election

Yingluck has insisted that an election is the only legitimate way forward for Thailand, which has been repeatedly wracked by political conflicts over the past eight years. Her party is expected to win this vote comfortable, especially as the opposition Democrat Party refused to participate.

An estimated 45.84% of voters participated in the election, the Election Commission said Monday, a far lower turnout than the 75% in the 2011 vote that brought Yingluck to power.

Election results are yet to be announced, but since voting was disrupted in so many districts, the vote appears unlikely to produce enough valid results to form a parliament, meaning Yingluck will remain as caretaker Prime Minister.

The Electoral Commission says holding by-elections in all the disrupted districts — a process likely to face further pressure from protesters — could take as long as six months.

But Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkarnchana said Monday that the commission is required under the constitution to organize enough by-elections to reopen parliament within 30 days of Sunday’s vote.

The opposition, meanwhile, is mounting a legal challenge to the election’s legitimacy.

Last week, an attorney for the Democrat Party filed a petition asking the nation’s constitutional court to declare Sunday’s election invalid because of the disruptions to voting.

Protesters resolute

The outlook for Thailand appears to be more uncertainty and unrest.

Since November, at least 10 people have died and nearly 600 have been wounded in violence linked to tensions around the protests.

The conflict has deepened the country’s political divide. The anti-government movement draws it support from southern Thailand, Bangkok’s middle class and the established elites. Yingluck’s base is in the less affluent but more populous regions north and east of the capital.

In Laksi, a Bangkok district of mixed pro- and anti-government sentiment, gunfire erupted Saturday between masked men amid demonstrations against the elections, witnesses said. Health officials reported at least eight people wounded since Saturday.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban on Sunday sought to distance his movement from the violence.

“We need to keep our principles. We fight in peace, with no weapons and violence. We only fight with our feet and whistles,” he said. “We have the right to a peaceful protest.”

Suthep said his supporters would continue efforts this week to block government offices in Bangkok. They held a march in the center of Bangkok on Monday.

Lt. Gen. Paradon Patthanathabut, the national security chief, estimated that there were between 2,000 and 3,000 demonstrators on the city’s streets Monday. Protesters generally dispute authorities’ estimates of their numbers, claiming they are far higher.

Amid the political deadlock, some observers have suggested Thailand’s powerful military, which has carried out coups in the past, could step in. The military’s stance on the crisis remains unclear.

The U.S. government is opposed to a coup, the State Department said Monday.

“We are speaking directly to all elements of Thai society to make clear the importance of using democratic and constitutional means to resolve political differences,” Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said at a regular news briefing.

Voters determined

Despite the tensions in Bangkok over the weekend, many voters insisted on casting their ballots.

“I’m very excited to exercise my right to vote today,” Nopphorn Tabupha said from Bangkok’s Bueng Kum district. “I didn’t think I would be able to come out. I thought I was going to be blocked by the protesters.”

Others found their efforts to participate frustrated.

In the Bangkok district of Din Daeng, voting was called off because protesters blocked officials from distributing ballot boxes. A group of government supporters responded by gathering at the district office chanting, “Election, election” and “We want to vote today.”

Meanwhile, opposition supporters reiterated their rejection of the vote.

“No, I didn’t (vote) — I want reform before elections. Because if I did, we will only get bad people, corrupt politicians,” said Suriya Phodhikul, a computer technician participating in an anti-government rally in the Phayathai district of Bangkok.

Thaksin’s role

Suthep’s anti-government protesters say Yingluck is merely a puppet of Thaksin, a polarizing figure who built his support on populist policies that pleased residents of the north and northeast. Yingluck has repeatedly denied her brother calls the shots in her government.

Thaksin, a business tycoon whose electoral success unsettled the Thai elite, was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and has spent most of the time since then in exile overseas. If he returns, he risks a two-year prison sentence on a corruption conviction, which he says was politically motivated.

Yingluck’s government set off the current crisis with a botched attempt to pass an amnesty bill that would have opened the door for Thaksin’s return. The move stirred anger around the country.

Thailand’s worst civil unrest took place in 2010, when the government — run at the time by the Democrat Party — ordered a crackdown on largely pro-Thaksin protesters, leaving about 90 people dead.

Court dismisses action brought by Thaksin

Posted by Rattana_S On December - 27 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

The Central Administrative Court on Friday dismissed an action brought by ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra against members of now-defunct National Examination Committee (AEC) for violating AEC regulations and holding a press conference about its freezing of Thaksin’s assets.

Thaksin, who is now in self-exile and who was represented by his lawyer, alleged that the press conference damaged his reputation.

The Court said the complainant had abused his power in giving benefits to his family and friends in five different cases, thus the AEC’s press conference on the freezing of his assets was in line with the facts. It did not tarnish his reputation nor did it violate any regulations. The Court therefore decided to reject the case.

(Reuters) – Thailand’s political future is cloudier than ever, but one thing is for certain – self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra won’t be coming home soon.

The chances of another round of political conflict seemed slim a few months ago as the government of Thaksin’s sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, entered its third year in office after a fairly smooth ride, much to do with outwardly cordial ties with her brother’s enemies, among them generals, royal advisers and opposition politicians.

Having fled into exile to avoid a jail sentence for graft in 2008, Thaksin had hoped the climate was ripe for him to try to return. But now that seems less likely than ever.

Protesters have marched for weeks in Bangkok streets, clashing with riot police and vowing to overthrow the “Thaksin regime” and replace it with “good people”, effectively suspending Thailand’s democratic system. Yingluck’s honeymoon period is over. Her government is clinging on.

The mistake for her, it seems, was her Puea Thai party’s attempts to ram through the legislature a political amnesty bill that outraged opponents, who called it a blatant move whitewash the divisive Thaksin of his crimes.

The Senate rejected the bill and Yingluck shelved it, but the damage was already done. Thaksin’s opponents among the royalist, military-backed establishment and the parliamentary opposition had the pretext they needed to launch the latest salvo.

“Thaksin is the ghost of Thailand’s politics and people just can’t get over him,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies.

“Through the amnesty, he tested the waters, but these were deep, deep waters and that has provided the protesters with an opportunity to remove a threat to the old establishment.”

Though a ceasefire of sorts has been declared between demonstrators and the government to mark the 86th birthday of much revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday, the battle lines have again been drawn in a long-running conflict pitting a decades-old oligarchy against a new one that has emerged under Thaksin’s rule.

LEADER AT LARGE

Few think that Yingluck’s party that won a 2011 election in a landslide by campaigning on Thaksin’s name and populist policies is being run independently of him. The cabinet is stacked with his closest allies with whom he communicates via Skype and many Puea Thai lawmakers have met him overseas at his homes in Hong Kong and Dubai.

The amnesty bid is widely seen as a poor call by Thaksin, who might have been lulled into a false sense of security by Yingluck’s peaceful run in office, her party’s commanding parliamentary majority and the military’s attempts to distance itself from the crisis after a series of bungled forays into politics since overthrowing Thaksin in a 2006 coup.

Under Yingluck, Thailand rebounded from the worst flood crisis in 50 years with economic growth of 6.5 percent in 2012.

A policy of tax rebates for first-time buyers of homes and cars won some middle-class support while a rice subsidy shored up already strong rural backing garnered from almost free healthcare, village grants and cheap loans under Thaksin.

Combined with a hefty war chest amassed from a telecoms business and ventures into gold and diamond mines and even a Premier League soccer club, billionaire Thaksin has the cash to spend on modern marketing campaigns that have won him or his proxies every election since 2001. It’s likely they would win another if a snap poll was called, something Yingluck has refused to do.

That leaves the situation in a stalemate if Thailand wants to remain a democracy.

If Yingluck’s government was forced out, it would only be a matter of time, given the electoral support, before Thaksin wrested back control, whether he’s actually in Thailand or not.

Until then, Thaksin may have left his sister with a lot to contend with.

“This amnesty fiasco has blown up in his face, the anti-Thaksin crusade has been reignited and there’s every indication this will not stop here,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

“These protests have been condoned and supported by large segments of the Bangkok-based establishment. It looks very clear the protesters have strategic backing and if the military intervenes, it will certainly not be on the side of the government.”

(Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

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