Thailand tensions must rouse traumatised Coalition

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Nationalist anti-government protesters from Pitak Siam clash with riot police at a rally on Makhawan Bridge on Nov 24, 2012 in Bangkok, Thailand.We are witnessing a serious opposition-led threat to democratic process and respect for election results in Thailand, one of Australia's oldest and most important ASEAN trading and political partners.

Yesterday, pro-government protesters died in street clashes in Bangkok. A former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, of the main opposition Democratic Party, who is orchestrating the anti-government protest, told supporters it was necessary for them to break the law in order to try to oust the elected prime minister (who commands a comfortable majority of seats in the elected parliament) Yingluck Shinawatra, younger sister of the controversial exiled Thaksin Shinawatra.

Suthep made a crude public ultimatum when he met Yingluck today: he said this would be his last meeting with her and he demanded she resign within 48 hours.

The highly organised and well equipped Yellow Shirts protesters, several thousands in number, have concentrated on occupying goverment offices and police stations, mainly in Bangkok. Their aim is to disrupt normal government operations. They are claimed to have the sympathy of the urban middle class which objects to Yingluck's populism and her concern for the needs of people in poorer regions of Thailand. They want the money to stay in Bangkok.

This seems to be a minority middle-class revolt against a populist government. Many younger people in Bangkok would quietly favour the elected Yingluck. But their affluent parents in Bangkok seem not to — or at least, are sitting on the fence as thousands of Yellow Shirt protesters rampage through the streets in gas masks.

So far, the Red Shirt supporters of the government have mainly kept off the streets under advice from leaders not to give way to provocations. But how long can this go on?

The Democratic Party strategy is clear, and it has worked in the past: to create so much law and order breakdown as would panic the military and Crown advisers into declaring martial law and suspending democracy for some years. Thailand has had several such periods of enforced military rule precipitated in such ways by minority rightwing demonstrations. It is all sadly familiar.

The King's birthday is on this coming Thursday and it was probably planned that escalating demonstrations this week would increase pressure on the military and Crown advisers to declare martial law before Thursday's celebrations. It is all very clear what is happening.

There has been a strange silence from Thailand's regional friends. It is the ASEAN convention not to comment on internal affairs but that Convention has been broken in the past. One would think that democratic Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore had views on the street bullying taking place in Thailand now. If so, they have not made their views known to Thailand formally or informally (to judge by media reports).

Nor has Australia. Where was the Dorothy Dix question to Julie Bishop in Parliament? Surely DFAT could have come up with a well-phrased formulation of support for democratic values and due process in Thailand?

Certainly Gareth Evans in his years as Foreign Minister would not have been slow to comment on the present escalating threat to democracy in our friendly neighbour Thailand.

Possibly the Abbott Government is so traumatised as a result of its current tensions with Indonesia and China that it won't dare to open its mouth on Thailand. But this is a clear case where in my view, Australia should comment as a friend of Thailand and of its democratically elected government.

Meanwhile, travel agents continue to advertise holidays in Phuket as if nothing was happening ...


Tony Kevin headshotTony Kevin is a former ambassador to Cambodia.

Bangkok protest image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Tony Kevin, Thailand, Bangkok, ASEAN

 

 

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Could Tony and Julie be awaiting directions from Washington on whether they should comment and, if so, what they should say?
Ginger Meggs | 03 December 2013


I wonder, what is the greater moral imperative - break an accepted convention amongst a number of nations or stick our noses into another country's internal affairs which are not our business? Life under an arguably moral government compared with what we have had in the recent past is proving , it seems, very distressing for some.
john frawley | 04 December 2013


Isn't the government very corrupt? That must have some bearing on the protests.
angela | 04 December 2013


Sad times indeed here in Thailand. Yellows have boasted since the landslide Yingluck-led election win that they brought down three previous governments and they'll bring down this one too. The problem for the Yellows is that because they represent such a small minority they can't win a democratic election, so must trample democracy to achieve power; the irony of the Democratic party leading the demolition of democracy seems to have escaped them. Here in Isaan (the north-eastern part of the country) is where the votes are, and where live most of the people who put Yingluck into government; they are quiet now, but underneath the traditional Thai reserve, are seething. They are ferociously loyal to the king, and very unhappy about Suthep branding them as "against the monarchy", and despairing of the loss of their beloved Yingluck. It appears that they will not fight back against the tiny Army-supported minority bullying their way into government to protect their elitist privileges, but will wait it out as they've had to do so many times before. To resist will take the country into civil war, one which they know they cannot win - "the Army has too many guns", they say.
Adrian Ashenden | 04 December 2013


Thankfully, Wednesday saw eased tensions and Thursday is King's birthday, so sacrosanct. Protests may then resume. Yingluck has offered unconditional talks with opponents which could defuse situation. US ambassador to Thailand called for calm and dialogue. But Thailand is still on the brink of a conservative-led coup, though threat seems to have eased a little since my essay.
Tony kevin | 05 December 2013


Once again it appears that a current government is setting its own agenda and not taking your advice from the sidelines, Tony. That is probably the way they should continue. I fear you are becoming irrelevant. That may be an indicator of the direction in which you should move.
Edward F | 05 December 2013


Hey, Edward F., take it easy - Tony Kevin is offering accurate information on poor Thailand's goings-on, and again his update is spot-on. I'm in Thailand, have been for many years, am in touch with a large number of locals, and have a good take on things from a number of sources. Perhaps, Edward F, you might enlighten readers as to your real disagreement with Tony Kevin, because he has information on this current problem right under his thumb.
Adrian Ashenden | 05 December 2013


You may very well be in Thailand Adrian Ashenden and be well clued up on the local scene. That may not be a reason for the Australian Government to act in the way Tony Kevin suggests. They have to make their own calls. I doubt whether they'd go out of their way to read a Kevin article. Therein lies my query: just who are these articles pitched at and for what purpose?
Edward F | 05 December 2013


The Thai crisis is on the move again, after a few days' pause in honour of the King's birthday. Yesterday, all Opposition MPs resigned en masse from Parliament.. Today in response PM Yingluck called new elections, to be held within 60 days. Below is how the Opposition leader responded : Thai protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban says the dissolution of parliament is not the goal of the protests, and they will continue. In other words, the Opposition prefers to continue to try to force a military coup by disruptive street action in Bangkok rather than subject itself to the will of the electorate . On the precedent of the past four elections, the Opposition will lose this election. So maybe they will refuse to contest seats. It is hard to see this Opposition - really an urban-based money-and-power oligarchy rich enough to fund street violence indefinitely- as a party that has any respect for or even understanding of Thai democracy. . Mr Thaugsuban said: "The movement will keep on fighting, Our goal is to uproot the Thaksin regime. Although the House is dissolved and there will be new elections, the Thaksin regime is still in place ". Like most articles in Eureka Street, my articles are written for an informed and caring Australian readership. This might or might not include people in government agencies e.g. DFAT.
tony kevin | 09 December 2013


The Thai crisis is on the move again, after a few days' pause in honour of the King's birthday. Yesterday, all Opposition MPs resigned en masse from Parliament.. Today in response PM Yingluck called new elections, to be held within 60 days. Below is how the Opposition leader responded : Thai protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban says the dissolution of parliament is not the goal of the protests, and they will continue.

In other words, the Opposition prefers to continue to try to force a military coup by disruptive street action in Bangkok rather than subject itself to the will of the electorate . On the precedent of the past four elections, the Opposition will lose this election. So maybe they will refuse to contest seats. It is hard to see this Opposition - really an urban-based money-and-power oligarchy rich enough to fund street violence indefinitely- as a party that has any respect for or even understanding of Thai democracy. .

Mr Thaugsuban said: "The movement will keep on fighting, Our goal is to uproot the Thaksin regime. Although the House is dissolved and there will be new elections, the Thaksin regime is still in place ".

Like most articles in Eureka Street, my articles are written for an informed and caring Australian readership. This might or might not include people in government agencies e.g. DFAT.

tony kevin | 10 December 2013


The Thai crisis is on the move again, after a few days' pause in honour of the King's birthday. Yesterday, all Opposition MPs resigned en masse from Parliament.. Today in response PM Yingluck called new elections, to be held within 60 days. Below is how the Opposition leader responded : Thai protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban says the dissolution of parliament is not the goal of the protests, and they will continue.

In other words, the Opposition prefers to continue to try to force a military coup by disruptive street action in Bangkok rather than subject itself to the will of the electorate . On the precedent of the past four elections, the Opposition will lose this election. So maybe they will refuse to contest seats. It is hard to see this Opposition - really an urban-based money-and-power oligarchy rich enough to fund street violence indefinitely- as a party that has any respect for or even understanding of Thai democracy. .

Mr Thaugsuban said: "The movement will keep on fighting, Our goal is to uproot the Thaksin regime. Although the House is dissolved and there will be new elections, the Thaksin regime is still in place ".

Like most articles in Eureka Street, my articles are written for an informed and caring Australian readership. This might or might not include people in government agencies e.g. DFAT.

tony kevin | 10 December 2013


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