Thailand is a mess
I was in Bangkok during the run-up to the coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. By all accounts, Thaksin is a real bastard. Corrupt and fond of croneyism of the highest order. The protesters, wearing uniformly bright yellow shirts and headbands, shut down parts of the city on several occasions. One protest was held a stone’s throw from foreigner-thick Khao San Rd. For all the notice paid by the visiting farang, it may well have been on Mars.
Less than two years later, it’s riot time again. Only the uniform is red, and Thaksin himself (exiled, living in London) is said to be manipulating the masses against his replacement.
I try my best to get a handle on the local politics of countries I visit, but I can’t honestly say that I understand the whole situation. All I know for sure is what the Guardian reported today:
The latest factional violence follows warnings from some observers that the country is in danger of slipping into a “mobocracy”.
No shit. Thailand has seen 18 coups since WWII. That’s a hell of a track record for one of the region’s most open and stable countries. The global recession is hitting the former Siam hard, and not just from the tourism slowdown. For one, fluctuating food prices are causing chaos in the countryside; it’s no coincidence that you’ll find Thaksin loyalists among the rural poor.
In November, 2008, red-shirt protesters shut down Bangkok’s international airport, stranding travelers for several days. I’ve no doubt that tour operators and booking agents are steering their customers clear of Thailand. Since BKK is one of southeast Asia’s major hubs, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia will suffer too.
UPDATE: On Monday morning, the Telegraph reported:
“We must protect foreign tourists,” the government spokesman said, urging Thais to help keep foreigners up to date on the crisis as some areas cleared of clashes and new ones arose. “If you have foreign friends, please help them.”
If you’re in Bangkok, mind your surroundings. A real live coup is fast approaching.