Turmoil in Thailand

Police in Bangkok, Thailand, stand ready to put down protests; the full slogan on the street reads: “Coup is peace, election is slavery, loyalty is strength.”

The government of Thailand was overthrown by a coup in late May. After months of mounting protests, including violent clashes, the military stepped in and imposed martial law on May 20. Two days later, General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced the army had taken over, stating bluntly, “Don’t protest. It’s no use.” Broadcast media outlets were silenced, and a strict curfew and restrictions on public assembly were put in place.

A nation of some 68 million people, Thailand has been beset by decades of political turmoil. Since 1932, when the Thai monarchy’s control came to an end, there have been a dozen successful coups, and several others that failed. The array of political forces in the country is complicated, but essentially comes down to a divide between the rural poor majority in the North and the urban, mostly middle-class population of the South, centered in the capital, Bangkok. A coup in 2006 had driven Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist billionaire, from power. From exile, Thaksin helped fund a protest movement by his supporters, who are often called the Red Shirts.

In 2011 his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected as prime minister. However, she and other cabinet officers were ousted by Thailand’s Constitutional Court in early May. When the military seized power, they rounded up many activists, academics, and journalists, including leaders of the Red Shirts. General Prayuth then received official endorsement from Thailand’s aging King Bhumibol. In the present crisis, the army is most closely aligned with the royalist establishment—that is, those opposed to Thaksin’s influence.

Thailand has one of the strongest economies in Southeast Asia. It has become an important industrial assembly hub for such products as computer disk drives and automobiles for Japanese and Western companies. The months of instability in Thailand have already harmed its economy, which has seen negative growth and a fall in value of its currency, the baht. Observers worry that Thailand’s troubles could have regional ripple effects.

Image credit: © Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Related Links


Comments are closed.