Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Back From the Brink: Thai Protests End, For Now

Asia Calling

April 18th, 2009 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Thailand_Thaksin_web.JPGAfter three weeks of protests, supporters of Thailand’s exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, known as the Red-Shirts, grew increasingly restless this week, embarking on what they described as the final stage of their revolution; attempting to force the resignation of current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government.

After storming a hotel in the resort town of Pattaya and forcing the cancellation of the ASEAN summit it seemed that Thailand was once again on the verge of the chaos caused by the opposition Yellow-Shirts who took siege of Bangkok’s International Airport late last year.

Two protestors are reported to have died in clashes with police and the military but in less than 48 hours the action forced the protesters to back down and return to their villages…for now.

The latest episode has left many wondering how Thailand can break the cycle of political unrest that has gripped the nation for more than two years and continues to damage its already fragile economy.

Asia Calling’s Kong Janoi filed an update from the capital Bangkok.

Tears and disappointment filled Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue on Tuesday as thousands of frustrated Red-Shirts packed up their belongings, abandoning what was supposed to have been their “final stand” at Government House.

After two days of escalating street battles, the protesters woke on Tuesday morning to find the military had surrounded their main camp in Bangkok.

United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) core leader Waeng Tojitrak says they negotiated a peaceful exit with the military.

“When we heard there was violence and some deaths and third parties accusing the red-shirts of being violent we decided to negotiate with the soldiers to send our supporters home safely. We will take some time out to refresh our strategy. The fight for democracy in Thailand will never end until Thailand becomes a free and fair democracy.”

Dr Tosaporn Sererak a former MP and Red-Shirt supporter warned the crisis wasn’t over.

“It is not over. They will continue their fight, there are still a lot of demonstrations at the small point at Snam Laung and every where. We have to fight in the street by the people and parliament. We don’t have a true democracy.”

The latest stand-off is yet another blow to Thailand’s economy, which is already feeling the effects of the global financial crisis.

The University of Thailand’s Chamber of Commerce, Economic and Business Forecasting Center estimates that the Thai will shrink by more than 5 or 6 percent this year, particularly if the political fighting continues.

Dr Paul Tanongpo is an economics professor at Rangsit University in Bangkok. He says Thailand will suffer longer from the crisis because of the protests.

“Economically Thailand has already been injured by the global financial crisis. The current political instability in the country will continue to further depress economic outlook for the country, the various businesses, particular tourism. Overall the economic outlook for Thailand is not that positive even prior to the political protesta, the government has already suggested new graduates from Thai universities, approximately seven hundred thousand for 2009, will be unemployed. This political turmoil will further depress economically. It will take Thailand another year to recover from the current situation.”

Many Thai’s are weary of the ongoing political turmoil.

In a recent survey by the Assumption University in Bangkok, 74 percent of Thai’s questioned said they are sick of politics.

But many, particularly the poor in rural areas, support the Red-Shirts. Thaksin Shinawatra was popular for lifting rural incomes, cracking down on drugs and paying off the country’s debts to the International Monetary Fund.

Rural dwellers in the North are resentful of perceived elitists in Bangkok; notably the judiciary, the military and the powerful advisers of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

In Bangkok, papaya salad seller Wasarnee believes the red-shirts were fighting for her rights too.

“The Red shits can not improve the economy but if we can achieve real democracy, we can build a strong economy. The Red shits are fighting for poor people not for themselves. Right now everything is expensive and this government is doing little to help the economy.

The question many are asking now is how long this latest ceasefire will last.

Dr Paul Tanongpo says there is now an established cycle of political unrest in Thailand.

“This type of cycle has become part of Thai political culture. After dissolution of the protests and several days to come, there will be a short period of relative peace but the protests will continue. A part of the protest and catalyst of the protests comes from outside, former Prime Minister Thaksin, so long as he continues to support the problems inside the country there will continue to be protests of this type, even if it leads to the unseating of the current government and the Red side wins the Yellow side will come out and continue the cycle. Thailand will continue to suffer and destroy its own image.”

He says the problems will remain until Thai politicians agree to accept each other and work together.

“The problem of Thailand today is not so much about Red Shirts or Yellow shirts, it has to do with political culture of certain leaders or political partys of Thailand who are not willing to accept the vote of the people, insisting that if even a majority of the vote goes to a certain party, insisting that the party should be dissolved. In Democratic systems, politicians must be able accept and be willing to accept the vote of the people, not to monopolise and look for reason’s to dissolve the government.”

Arrest warrant s have been issued for Thaksin Shinawatra and dozens of other Red-Shirts for their role in inciting the protests.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says elections will be called once stability has been restored. He also pledged to seek agreement in the government on unspecified political reforms.

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