Understanding the Thai conflict

May 26 2014, 04:18 IST
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SummaryThailand should take a cue from the recently concluded general elections in India

Over the last decade, the ‘city of angels’ Bangkok has dodged its divination and destiny, turning instead into a city of guns, soldiers and angry street protesters. The latest assault began when army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha declared martial law in Thailand on May 20. In response, respected academic Ji Ungpakorn (currently in exile in the UK due to the widely misused lese majeste law) went on to predict that it “smells like a coup, tastes like a coup, looks like a coup.” In just two days, Prayuth Chan-ocha proved him right declaring himself as acting Prime Minister and suspending the Constitution.

The coup comes in acrimonious times with a splintered political landscape translated loosely into a face-off between the ‘yellow shirts’ (monarchists, nobility, upper classes) and ‘red shirts’ (poor and rural Thais, supporters of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra). The old entrenched establishment favours yesteryears’ status quo—and accuses Thaksin of populist measures to ‘buy out’ the people in the past elections. The yellow shirts hope to reverse this—they want to have an appointed Prime Minister to ‘reform’ the system before any elections. Ironically, turning the democratic clock is difficult. Perhaps Thailand should take a cue from the recently concluded elections in India.

Interestingly, Thailand’s coup claims to be ‘temporary’ and offset by patriotism, or so it would like all to believe. Its rationale is prevention of escalating tensions between ‘pro-’ and ‘anti-government’ clashes that endanger the country’s security and safety. This is not fooling everyone—Khana Nitirat, a widely respected group of eminent jurists of Thammasat University (the university is famously known as a key player and arbiter in Thailand’s struggle for democracy), has slammed the coup as arbitrary and without the approval of His Majesty, the King.

While tourist arrivals have dropped in the last six months—hitting the backbone of the economy—the coup cloaks itself as an altruistic National Peace and Order Maintenance Council (NPOMC) to bring harmony. However, actions run contrary. Political leaders including former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have been detained and politically inclined individuals debarred from leaving the country. Besides, social media has been blanked out as have TV channels and radio stations. Though a number of yellow shirt leaders have been detained, red shirts call this detention just to show balance.

The military coup follows the judicial coup manoeuvred by the Constitutional Court ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for abuse of power transferring a senior National Security Council official. Thailand elections

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