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Post 392: Political Problems in Paradise .. Posted 7th December 2013

Once upon a time, in a constitutional monarchy not so far away, a series of unfortunate political events were unfolding ......
In order to explain the current political turmoil in Thailand, which is like trying to explain the unexplainable, you need to find an appropriate place to begin. However, no matter where you start there’ll always be a day before, a day when something of political significance happened. Because, when it comes to political unrest, Thailand has more history than most. Since the dissolution of the absolute monarchy in 1932, only one Thai prime minister has ever managed to serve a full term in office and Thailand has experienced more military coups than any other nation on earth. Given that unenviable history, I’ll begin with that one prime minister, the one man that most people will recognise, Thaksin Shinawatra, or as the fans of Manchester City used to call him, Frank.
So, billionaire telecommunications mogul Thaksin Shinawatra became the first prime minister to serve a full term in office: 2001 to 2006. However, although he implemented policies that certainly improved the lives of many people, especially those in rural farming communities of the North and North East, his premiership was controversial and climaxed in 2006 with another military coup. Accusations of treason, corruption, cronyism, unusual accumulation of wealth and undeclared assets whilst in office, suppression of the media, fiscal negligence and tax evasion had flourished during his premiership and in 2008, tow years after leaving office, Thaksin was found guilty on charges of corruption. Perhaps fearing that the court's decision might not go in his favour, Thaksin wasn’t in court to hear the verdict and hasn’t returned to Thailand since. A year before his conviction, Thaksin had purchased Manchester City Football Club, but his subsequent application for asylum in the UK was denied by the British government. Thaksin sold Manchester City, was then ousted from its board and eventually settled in Dubai, and strangely, became a citizen of Montenegro. Shortly after the court’s verdict in Bangkok, Thaksin was sentenced to two years in prison and had personal assets to the value of $2.2 Billion frozen. 
Between 2008 and 2011, the Thai political landscape seemed to be dominated by supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Red Shirts, in constant confrontation with supporters of the Democrats, the Yellow Shirts, and vice versa. In December 2008, Yellow Shirts famously occupied Bangkok’s two main airports and their actions eventually led to the dissolution of parliament and the appointment of a Democrat led government. In April /May of 2010, thousands of Thaksin supporters wearing their famous Red Shirts then occupied the business district of Bangkok. They were protesting against the military appointed Democrat led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva and demanding new and fair elections for Thailand. After six weeks of mostly peaceful occupation, the military moved into the main protest site and ninety people were killed by gunfire and many more were injured.
Roll forward to July 2011, the Democrat government steps down and opens the door for new and 'fair' elections. Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party has been legally disbanded by the courts, its successor the People’s Power Party has also been outlawed on the grounds that it was Thai Rak Thai under a different name, and the latest incarnation, the Pheu Thai Party, wins the general election. Thailand had just voted for its first ever female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s youngest sister. 
 The fact that the Pheu Thai Party won the 2011 general election wasn’t really a surprise. The Thaksin years had cemented support in the rural areas of the North and in the poorer quarters of Bangkok and the people had voted in great numbers. However, to many people, inside Thailand and beyond, Yingluck Shinawatra was virtually unknown. Many supporters of the defeated Democrat Party suggested that Yingluck was simply a puppet for her exiled brother, that Thaksin himself was holding the reins of power and that in a very short space of time, he’d be back in Thailand with his conviction for corruption overturned and his fortune restored. It’s true that Yingluck hadn’t actually entered politics until just a month before she was elected prime minister, but the Democrats appeared to have very little evidence to support any of their claims. However, confidential documents supporting their claims may have recently surfaced via whistle-blower Edward Snowden, but I haven't seen them and given where I am, I wouldn't like to comment further.  
Yingluck Shinawatra’s first two years in office were to say the least, turbulent. Shortly after becoming prime minister, Bangkok famously flooded causing the recovering economy to stutter. A relaxing of credit rules and a new car incentive scheme designed to stimulate economic growth added to the increasing debt burden of households and a rice purchasing scheme to support the rural farmers in the North seemed to seriously deplete the nation's coffers. Things were difficult, but Yingluck seemed confident that her policies were leading Thailand in the right direction and her supporters continued to stand by her.
Then, on the basis that they’d given the orders for the military to disperse the 2010 protests in the business district of Bangkok, the current leader and former deputy leader of the Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban, were charged with murder and warrants issued for their arrest.  This act clearly pleased the Red Shirt followers of the Pheu Thai Party who demanded justice, but angered the Yellow Shirt Democrat supporters who claimed that the charges were simply politically motivated.
At around this time, the governing Pheu Thai Party presented a bill to parliament, a bill that Yingluck stated would help in the healing process and bring about reconciliation for all political parties and supporters. The bill became known as The Amnesty Bill. The bill was presented to parliament, and then amended, and then proposed again. Because the Amnesty Bill would clear Abhisit and Suthep of their recent murder charges, it seemed that the opposition Democrat Party would support it. However, once details of the proposed bill were made public, the people, Red and Yellow, reacted with anger. The Red’s didn’t want Abhisit or Suthep to avoid responsibility for the deaths in 2010, and the Yellow’s, well, they looked deeper into the bill and found something slightly more alarming. The bill had been amended in such a way that Thaksin Shinawatra would also be cleared of all charges, proven and pending, and would allow him to return to Thailand and reclaim his seized fortune of $2.2 Billion. Red and Yellow were angered by different elements of the Amnesty Bill, but both seemed untied in their anger at the perceived deception by their own elected government. 
Throughout November, demonstrators have been taking to the streets of Bangkok, waving their banners, blowing their whistles and demanding that the Amnesty Bill is defeated. Red and Yellow for the first time united? Well, almost. In response to the protests, parliament asked the senate to vote down the Amnesty Bill, and thankfully for all of the people concerned, they did. However, the story doesn’t end there. In fact, it’s really just beginning.
As the Amnesty Bill was buried, instead of dispersing and allowing government to continue its work until the next national election, the protests continued. Unsatisfied with simply defeating the Amnesty Bill, former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban is still out on the streets of Bangkok, vociferously urging his supporters to continue their anti-government protests. Suthep’s current objective is to force Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and to have the democratically elected parliament dissolved. In its place, Suthep is demanding an unelected council that will govern Thailand for the foreseeable future, I suspect with himself at the head of it.
The Pheu Thai government and half of the media are claiming that Suthep's demands go directly against the constitution and a warrant for his arrest has been issued. However, getting the police or the military to serve that warrant might prove to be difficult. Thus far, the army has remained in barracks and the police have dealt with the protests, in most cases, with velvet gloves.
But, and it's a big but, Suthep has today publicly called for Monday 9th of December to be D-Day, the day that he brings down the democratically elected government of Thailand. Let's hope that this all ends peacefully, because when politicians start openly playing with matches, it's usually the innocent who get burnt.