Brokedown Paradise

 
 

As Thailand descends into social and political chaos, Alanna O’Malley looks at the instability that has recently beset the region and what its consequences may entail.As hordes of UCD students return to Belfield this week from far-flung places in Asia, many will tell tales of adventures at Thailand’s full moon parties and hedonistic night life.

But the choice of this Southeast-Asian country as a destination for travellers and revellers alike may well be severely compromised by the recent turmoil which has hit the country.

Thailand has been one of the relatively stable countries in the region since the removal of absolute monarchy rule in 1932. It is only in the last decade that it has become a country run rife with rumours of corruption.

What emerges however, is a highly segregated image of Thai society, within which turbulence and strife is commonplace

There had also been particular turmoil leading up to the military coup of 19th September 2006. Martial law had been imposed in Thailand up until January 2007 and political activity banned until July of that year, when a new constitution was drawn up.

The recent insurgency began on the August 26th when anti-government protestors from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) occupied government buildings, claiming that the Prime Minister Samack Sundaravej is merely a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in the 2006 coup and is now in exile.

Since then, a state of emergency has been declared in Bangkok and senior minister Tej Bunnag has resigned. However, Prime Minister, Sundaravej has ruled out resigning, denouncing PAD’s claim to legitimacy. Sundaravej declared that the group were illegal, and strongly denied the legitimacy of PAD in government.
PAD and their supporters have besieged government buildings for the last two weeks and called for the resignation of the Prime Minister. They claim that Sundaravej illegally gained power through bribery and other means, thereby duping the substantial rural population into voting for them.

That Thailand’s political system has long been bound up with claims of corruption and bribery is widely recognised, that such a maverick action was taken however is not common in Thailand’s political system

Most reports maintain that the PAD had substantial support in and around Bangkok where they have had powerful backers among wealthy groups. That Thailand’s political system has long been bound up with claims of corruption and bribery is widely recognised, that such maverick action was taken however is not common in Thailand’s political system.

Thailand has a semi-autonomous system, whereby many of the provinces have their own administrations, meaning that national unity, especially over political issues is relatively hard to achieve.
This lack of centrality has further strengthened the hand of mostly Islamist separatists in the south of the country whose campaign has escalated particularly since 2004.

The most striking aspect of this insurgency is that by and large there is no firm identity of the actors behind the conflict.

In addition, their motivating factors are across a range of areas from economic to historical, but to date it is generally denied that there is a strong political motivation as Muslims are regarded as well represented within the system.

It is not known whether or not the latest bout of unrest in Bangkok is connected to the insurgency in the south and indeed, there have been no established links between PAD and southern fighters.

What emerges however, is a highly segregated image of Thai society, within which turbulence and strife is commonplace.

There is a deep disparity between the Buddhist and Muslim sectors of the population which dates back far into Thai history and which, it appears, remains unresolved today.

Within this complex society, despite the fact that a large section of the economy is largely dependent on exports and tourism, Thailand remains a country which is far removed from the Western idealism that many of its visitors expect.

One claim is that the insurgency in the south can be attributed to communist sympathies, which would suggest that as an evolving political system, Thailand has some way to go towards being as democratic as the PAD have called for.

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