musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Thaksin’

Talk About the Protests

I returned to Bangkok on Sunday night, greeted by news that the political protests had escalated and there had been fatalities the day before, the result of hot-headed Red Shirt protesters confronting students at Ramkamhaeng University. But that incident was only one facet of the ongoing political protests that have unsettled the city, and the nation, in recent weeks.


Today is the King of Thailand’s birthday, also known as Father’s Day here in the kingdom. It’s a national holiday and a very important one. And in respect to the country’s “Father”, the longest-reigning monarch in the world, even the various groups of protesters are taking a break and observing a respectful truce. But I fear it’s an “eye of the hurricane” sort of situation, and in the coming days more protests and conflict will once again take center stage.

What is it about Thailand and these bizarre protests? This time around we have idiots blowing whistles, hoping that this and other “peaceful” acts of protest will send the popular, democratically-elected Prime Minister into political oblivion. About five years ago we had the Yellow Shirts, a group of Royalists opposed to ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his “Thai Rak Thai” cronies, whose protests expanded to the point where both of Bangkok’s international airports shut down operations for a full week.


And then three years ago came the real protest-a-palooza, the scary Red Shirts, a group firmly pro-Thaksin, who set up camp in Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong district — conveniently located next to the city’s biggest shopping centers — and protested for nearly three full months. But those were not docile protests, but shrill, confrontational, antagonistic rallies that spread like a cancer, infecting other parts of the city, shutting down more shopping centers, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses. We ended up having a city curfew, police officers and soldiers patrolling the streets with rifles. It was more than unsetting, it was fucking scary. I don’t hesitate to call the Red Shirt leadership a bunch of terrorists and thugs. They instigated, aggravated, and accelerated those protests to the point where they basically held the city hostage. Even when the government agreed to their demands to hold early elections, they still refused to leave their rally sites, now spread further to Chitlom and Lumpini Park. No, the almighty Red Shirt leaders wouldn’t back down, but they didn’t hesitate to put their supporters, mostly poor people from the country’s Northeast region, in harm’s way, and later they disingenuously played the victim card, moaning and crying for justice after some of those pawns were killed in an attempt to restore order to the ravaged heart of the city.

As far as I’m concerned this Red Shirt group is plague that has damaged Thailand, perhaps irreparably. And I don’t have any love for the Red-Shirt-backed Peua Thai government, led by PM Yingluck Shinawatra — a political novice with zero credentials to hold office, but hey, she’s Thaksin’s sister, so the party continues!

I read this half-baked synopsis of the current conflict on a major online news site yesterday:

The long-running political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based elite backed by the military and the palace against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin, a billionaire businessman-turned-populist politician.

Ah, the working-class poor “fighting the good fight” against their rich oppressors. Too bad that’s not true in this case. But that’s typical of the clueless international news media, trying to simplify a complex situation, and getting their analysis hopelessly distorted in the process. If I hear any more moronic references to “The Bangkok Elite” I’m gonna do me a tribute to Root Boy Slim: Boogie till you puke!


The Red Shirts might be a bunch of thugs, but the new breed of protesters that are involved with the current anti-government protests are also an unsettling group. They are not nearly as violent or confrontational as the Red Shirts, yet I find their protests nearly as disturbing. They are being led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a veteran blowhard who until recently was a secretary-general of the opposition Democrat Party, and a member of parliament. But he resigned from those positions to lead these protests and his rowdy calls to overthrow “The Thaksin Regime” and install a “People’s Council” as the temporary government have drawn a surprisingly amount of support. But I don’t trust this guy Suthep either. He strikes me just another creepy politician with ulterior motives, and I think what he and the protesters are doing will only cause more conflict and division. I don’t see a happy ending.  

No matter how bad or corrupt the Yingluck government is, the fact of the matter is that her party won the last election by a landslide and they have the right to rule. Suthep and the Democrats have zero hope of winning an election at this point in time, so they seem to think that disposing the current government by other means is justified. Both sides kept blathering on about “democracy” when I suspect that neither group truly wants such a thing.

The Land of Smiles? Not any longer. Welcome to the land of Fuck-head Politicians and Shit-stupid Protesters!



Teachers Targeted … to Die

Wednesday’s Thai newspapers detailed a vicious crime, one that’s occurring with disturbingly frequency lately: another teacher shot down and killed in Thailand’s notorious “Deep South.” And this wasn’t just any regular teacher, but a school director in Pattani, one of the three provinces in South Thailand where Muslim “insurgents” have been on a rampage for most of the past decade.


In an article this week the Bangkok Post gave a sobering tally: since the violence surged in January 2004, there have been 155 teachers killed. Read that again: 155 human beings slaughtered because they were only trying to do their job and provide local children with an education. Teachers! That’s just … intolerable. Fuck those insurgents.


Sadly, it’s not just teachers that are being killed, although that group appears to be one of the various insurgent groups’ prime targets. Buddhist monks have been shot and beheaded; police officers murdered; soldiers and “defense volunteers” ambushed and killed; bombs going off in markets and teashops, killing and maiming yet more people. A news article in Bangkok’s The Nation newspaper back in March put the total number of people killed in the region at 5,086, and the number of injured at 8,485. But that was over eight months ago, and those numbers are obviously even higher now. While Muslim groups appear to be the ones who are instigating the violence, it’s not clear how they are determining their targets. The number of Muslims who have died is higher than the number of Buddhists (2,996 to 1,952, according to the article), yet the number of Buddhists injured was nearly twice that of Muslims (5,141 to 2,751).


So what is causing this senseless violence? Oddly, it’s hard to get an accurate answer to that question. On Wikipedia, for example, it says:

A striking aspect of the South Thailand insurgency is the anonymity of the people behind it and the absence of concrete demands.

And that’s one of the reasons that efforts to quell the violence have been so ineffective. There’s no obvious, declared enemy, no one group to take aim at, to attempt to negotiate with or eliminate. Some say that the whole thing is a continuation of a long-running separatist movement, the border provinces (next to Malaysia) wanting to create their own independent state. Others think that the root of the violence is because the mostly Muslim locals feel ignored and economically disenfranchised by the central Thai government.


No matter what the cause, one would think that eliminating this scourge of violence would be a priority for the Thai government, but various incarnations of the Thaksin Regime, and even the Democratic Party, have all proven to be either inept or not particularly interested in solving the problem. The mindset seems to be along the lines of:

“Hey, it’s just those three border provinces down south, so why worry? Most of those people are Muslim and don’t even speak Thai anyway, so they are not really the same as other Thai people.”


Maybe when the insurgency travels north to Bangkok the government will finally start to take this problem more seriously. Thus far, the violence has been confined down south, but how much longer will that remain the case? Meanwhile, 332 schools in Pattani were closed temporarily this week “for a review of security measures.” One idea is to have teachers stay and live at their schools, rather than risking a commute to and from home. But for those with families, that’s not a realistic option. Frankly, it’s a wonder than any teachers still bother going to work in those provinces with the constant turmoil. At some point, you have to look at the madness surrounding you and gauge if it’s worth putting up with or not. If it was me, I’d be on the first bus out of that hellhole.

Prayers and Pathetic Politicians

I woke up one morning last week and realized that Yingluck Shinawatra was now the Prime Minister of Thailand. Pinch me. Slap me. A bad dream becomes reality. Is this another episode of that absurd soap opera known as Thai politics, or a harbinger of worse things to come?


You know, it would be a marvelous thing to celebrate the fact that Thailand now has its first ever female prime minister, a sign perhaps that Thailand is growing up and that government is no longer just another good old boys club. But the fact that Yinkgluck’s party was elected by Thai voters is no sign of anything, other than sheer nepotism and the return of a dubious cadre of well-connected politicians.


Yingluck is unashamedly a proxy for her older brother, the controversial ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. She was even referred to as “my clone” by Thaksin himself during the campaign. I’ve heard it said that it’s a shame that Yingluck won’t be allowed make decisions on her own without consulting big brother. But maybe that’s for the best. Yingluck is a political novice who has never held elected office of any kind. She has held staplers and fashion magazines. As an “executive” in the Shinawatra family’s telecommunications and property development businesses, it’s not clear what she exactly did. But hey, whatever it was, it’s apparently enough to make her a valid head of state in the eyes of the voting public.


As frustrating and silly as things can get here in Thailand, I keep thanking my lucky guavas that I’m not living back in the USA, where citizens are trying to salvage their sanity — and bank accounts — amidst the latest crippling waves of political and economic turbulence. Barack Obama seems keen on proving that he can be just as awful a president as George W. Bush was. That may sound like an absurd statement, seeing as how Bush was one of the very worst US presidents ever, but the reality is that Obama is doing a pretty awful job of his own so far. Granted, he has been hamstrung by obstructive Right-Wing Republicans and misguided Tea Party loonies, but his inability to prioritize job creation, his well-intentioned but horribly-executed health care plan, and making too many concessions to the Republicans in the recent debt ceiling fiasco, all make for a fairly miserable report card. What happened to Obama’s vision, his hoped-for leadership, and his ability to inspire? At this point, the silver-tongued fellow in the oval office can’t inspire anyone more than his wealthy core of campaign donors. (Read this week’s excellent opinion piece by Drew Westen in the New York Times for more on the “missing Obama.”)


Meanwhile, the US economy continues to sputter, millions remain unemployed, and yet the profits of big corporations are soaring and the wealthy elite are paying a paltry percentage of taxes. There is an ugly, ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in the US, and a lot of citizens are very angry. Will people really be shocked when London-like riots erupt in American cities in the near future?


Obama would be looking very much like a one-term prez at this point except for the incredibly lame lineup of Republicans who have announced their candidacy for the 2012 race. One of those potential candidates is Rick Perry, the current governor of Texas. This guy is so off-the-wall that he makes Sarah Palin look normal. But he’s a born-again Christian, so that explains the weirdo angle. Yes, another one of those crackpots who dismisses the threat of climate change and thinks that prayer is the answer to solving any problem. A column this week by Timothy Egan in the New York Times provided an excellent look at Prayin’ Perry. Here is one excerpt:

“ … Perry’s tendency to use prayer as public policy demonstrates, in the midst of a truly painful, wide-ranging and potentially catastrophic crisis in the nation’s second most-populous state, how he would govern if he became president.

Perry: “I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this,’” he said in a speech in May, explaining how some of the nation’s most serious problems could be solved.

That was a warm-up of sorts for his prayer-fest, 30,000 evangelicals in Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Saturday. From this gathering came a very specific prayer for economic recovery. On the following Monday, the first day God could do anything about it, Wall Street suffered its worst one-day collapse since the 2008 crisis. The Dow sunk by 635 points … given how Perry has said he would govern by outsourcing to the supernatural, it’s worth asking if God is ignoring him.”


Sure, it’s easy to make fun of kooky politicians like Perry, but he’s already served three terms as governor, so most of his constituents must be happy with the job he’s doing (which includes executing more prisoners than any other state in the country). And the sad truth is that unabashed Christian politicians, the so-called Evangelicals, like Perry are the norm not the exception in the USA. In fact, if you are not a bible-toting, Jesus-loving, happily married, family values kind of guy — or gal — you have zero chance of being elected to the highest office in the United States of Amnesia.


Having faith in a higher power is one thing, but when those religious beliefs lead to bullying people and making illogical decisions based on “faith”, then it becomes a problem. An emotional crutch for one person becomes a danger to others. It should be obvious to any sane individual that religion should be kept out of politics. So why is it that so many people support religious zealots like Perry? Maybe it’s just the sobering fact most of the voting public are religious zealots themselves and have no qualms about their leaders being similarly delusional. They certainly don’t seem fazed when their elected leaders resort to voodoo-like superstitions like praying, expecting to receive divine guidance for answers. Personally, I would prefer my elected leaders to think about matters intelligently, using facts and logic to come up with solutions. They’re going to pray about it? That should frighten people. In God We Trust? There’s your problem right there.


You hear all this talk about respect for other religions and tolerance for those with different beliefs, but I think it’s better to turn that notion around: there should be zero tolerance for religion in politics, and zero tolerance for religious groups who attempt to impose their hackneyed beliefs on others. As the wise philosopher George Clinton once said: “Free your mind … and your ass will follow.”

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