Thailand is no stranger to political unrests and the current agitation against the Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is a political deadlock that is underminingThailand’s democracy, economy and tourism. While the present unrest could largely be a domestic fight between the ruling Pheu Thai party andthe opposition Democratic Party, the role of external elements influencing the ongoing unrest in Thailand cannot be ruled out. As always, the Royal Palace will have to intervene to calm down the tensionand PM Yingluck will have to be more accommodative without which Thailand may lose out benefits of ASEAN economic integration.
Thailand is no stranger to political unrests and the current agitation against the Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is a political deadlock that is undermining Thailand’s democracy, economy and tourism. While the present unrest could largely be a domestic fight between the ruling Pheu Thai party and the opposition Democratic Party, the role of external elements influencing the ongoing unrest in Thailand cannot be ruled out. As always, the Royal Palace will have to intervene to calm down the tension and PM Yingluck will have to be more accommodative without which Thailand may lose out benefits of ASEAN economic integration.
The demonstrations kicked off in the last week of November after Thailand’s lower house passed a controversial amnesty bill, which was blatantly rejected by the senate.
However, the critics believe the bill is a measure to safeguard PM Yingluck’s brother and former leader Thaksin Shinawatra to return from a self-imposed exile without serving tenure in jail.
Thaksin Shinawatra, once a strong figure in Thai politics, was ousted in a military coup in 2006. Though he lives overseas in a self imposed exile, he remains incredibly popular among the rural class.
Conversely, he is loathed by the middle classes and Thai elite who accuse him of being corrupt and running the country during his rule.
Thus, despite the amnesty bill being rejected, the anti-government protests have continued and also turned violent.
Three people have died and hundreds have been injured as the agitators have vowed to topple the existing government at any cost while the PM is trying to maintain maximum resistance.
The demonstrations, being led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Thai deputy Prime Minister who resigned from the opposition Democratic Party to lead the rallies has led protestors to surround and occupy government buildings in an attempt to force the Pheu Thai party to step down.
His campaign has raised suggestions that he may have the backing of the military, which has long held influence over Thai politics.
The Thai army has often stepped in during times of crisis, carrying out 18 successful attempted coups since the 1930’s.
Accusing the government of having ‘bought votes’ in the last elections, the protestors say their goal is to uproot the ‘political machine of Thaksin’, who they believe is actually handling the government from behind-the-scenes while PM Yingluck is nothing more than a proxy face.
They want the Pheu Thai party to step down and install an unelected ‘people’s council’ instead to pick the country’s next leaders.
However, not only has Yingluck survived a no-confidence vote against her in the senate as her party enjoys majority in the lower house, she has also refused to cave in to the pressure of the protestors, deeming their demands as unconstitutional and unreasonable.
Although Thailand is not new to internal unrest as political rivals have often tried to sabotage one another by using democratic means, there is the external factor of Thaksin that is silently acting from outside.
In fact, the current government is popularly known as a ‘government of Skype’, which means that Thaksin actually runs the government from behind the curtains while his sister runs the show on stage.
In addition, other external elements like the geo-strategic fallout between rival powers like US and China is partly consuming Thailand as both US and China are trying to prop up various initiatives to bracket regional countries.
As US is trying to reassert itself to make its trans-Pacific partnership (TPP) a credible boost, China is trying to control Thailand through the proxy government.
It is an open secret that Yingluck’s government is seen as a proxy for her brother, who maintained a special tie with China during his rule. Originally, Thaksin’s ancestry also traces back to China.
In response, the opposition Democratic Party, the Royal Thai armed forces and the palace are all becoming increasingly suspicious about Yingluck’s government and its policies.
Not only her latest amnesty bill proposal was crafted in a manner that would exonerate her brother from criminal charges for the crimes he orchestrated during his reign, her government is also accused of rising unemployment, prices and crime, which is directly affecting Thailand’s main tourism industry.
Political instability has often handicapped Thailand’s prospects and the political elite must show maturity while dealing with the ongoing crisis.
They must find a middle ground to negotiate a stand-off so that the ongoing crisis does not grip the country indefinitely which could allow external elements to influence the internal atmosphere of the country.
The rule of law must be respected and democracy should be ensured for a better future for Thai people as ASEAN economic community is going to be a reality in 2015. This is the right time for Thailand to do lot of home work to draw rich dividend of ASEAN economic integration since ASEAN straddles in the middle of Thailand.