Foreign Editorials and Essays on the Current Political Crisis in Thailand

Here are some articles and essays on the current situation I've read the past few days. They are all worth a read. First up the Asia Foundation focusses on the role of the King and the changing perception of the red shirts.

But politicians are another matter, and the image of both politicians and the military has changed in the eyes of the Thai population. Villagers are no longer uneducated, and with the power of information technology, have become well informed about both their nation and the world. They are no longer willing to be deferential and respectful simply because it was to be their station in life. All Thais want to articulate their needs, aspirations, and, in times like these, their discontent. Any respect for leaders, be they in government or civil society, should be earned, not simply given. It is time for Thais from all walks of life to engage in spirited but constructive and civil political discourse. This will require a great change in mindset by the nation’s political elite. It will also require that ordinary Thais feel they have a stake in the nation’s political process and their country’s future, with both rights and responsibilities.

"Uniting a Divided Thailand", John J. Brandon, Asia Foundation, April 14, 2010

The Wall Street Journal's op-ed by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker reflects on the fallout after the violent clashes of last Saturday and see the window of opportunity for a peaceful solution of the protests decreasing.

Both sides have martyrs and grounds for revenge. (...)

Electoral politicians are scrambling to shift ground in line with the voters on whom they depend. With a big election victory, the reds could reinstate the 1997 constitution scrapped by the 2006 coup, void the actions of the coup government, put the coup generals on trial, and bring back former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. In fear of these prospects, die-hard groups are howling for repression rather than negotiation. The conservative and royalist "yellow shirts" have called for martial law. Yet with every day of delay in restarting negotiations, the Democrats' electoral prospects slip still lower.

Since the 2006 coup, parliament has been battered and belittled. Two elected governments have been overthrown. More than 200 elected legislators have been banned from politics. A new constitution deliberately sets out to diminish parliament's role. The consequences are now clear. The country desperately needs to reinstate parliament as a national forum.

Thailand is running out of mechanisms for compromise. Various academic groups, business groups, peace advocates and elder statesmen have failed to gain any traction as potential conciliators. By loudly and repeatedly claiming to be defending the monarchy, the die-hard groups have eroded the institution's old role as mediator. There remains only a slim chance for Mr. Abhisit to play a positive role in the emergence of the new political Thailand, rather than being a casualty in the collapse of the old order.

"Thailand Runs Out of Room for Compromise", by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker, Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2010

The Wahsington Post's editorial calls prime minister Abhisit not to further delay possible elections and explains why we have the political crisis in first place.

Neither side in Thailand's class-based political conflict is a paragon of democracy. (...) The root of Thailand's years of conflict, however, is the unwillingness of the old establishment to accept that Mr. Thaksin has the support of the country's majority. (...) After two more prime ministers were forced from office by demonstrations and questionable court rulings in late 2008, Mr. Abhisit brought the anti-Thaksin forces to power without calling a new election. He has resisted holding one since, for the obvious reason that Mr. Thaksin's supporters probably would win once again.

Mr. Abhisit is now suggesting that he could call an election at the end of this year. That stall is dangerous and unlikely to work. (...)

What ought to be clear by now is that anti-democratic tactics, from military intervention to street barricades to convenient court edicts, will not end Thailand's turmoil. The only solution is for both sides to accept that elections should decide who governs Thailand -- and that both winners and losers should respect basic political and civil rights.

"Stopping Thailand's Endless Battle Of The Yellow And Red Shirts", Washington Post, April 15, 2010

TIME Magazine's Hannah Beech describes the mood in Bangkok and the possible economical consequences. I also consider an award to her for the best quote describing Thailand in recent times!

In the facile political taxonomy we use to categorize nations, Thailand is considered a democracy. Yet the country remains, if not a banana republic, a juicy, messy mango republic. Over the past four years, two political blocs, loosely divided in terms of class and geography, have swapped control of government with whirlwind velocity, using ever more creative protest tactics and distortions of democratic institutions to vanquish their opponents. (...)

Even as this political farce has unfolded, Bangkok has, for the most part, felt strangely normal. Earlier this month, Abhisit declared a state of emergency in the capital after the red rallies swelled and mysterious grenades were lobbed across town. But restaurants were still packed, bars still buzzing. The only real outcry seemed to come when protesters had the audacity to converge near six shopping malls, forcing a halt to retail therapy.

Yet the growing political lawlessness is devastating for Thailand's economy — and the bloodshed of April 10 is impossible to ignore. Already, foreign investors are looking at regional alternatives like Indonesia or Vietnam as safer places to park their money. On April 12 Thailand's Finance Ministry trimmed half a percentage point off this year's growth estimate of 4.5% because of the continuing crisis. (...)

"Thailand's Broken Democracy", Hannah Beech, TIME, April 16, 2010