At around 7pm on the evening of September 19th, 2006, army tanks began to appear on the streets of Bangkok, Thailand. By 8pm, it was all over CNN and the BBC, a military coup was definitely underway in the Thai capital and the elected Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was deposed. Thaksin, who at the time was waiting to give a speech to the United Nations in New York City, was as surprised as anyone. He attempted to give the speech but was denied his right by the UN, as he was no longer the head of a country. Fast forward three years and Thailand, this weekend, commemorated the third anniversary of the military coup. But have things improved in Thailand since the coup three years ago, or are they worse?
To most observers, who experienced the 2006 coup and its after effects, the initial feeling about the coup was one of relief and euphoria. Many Thais in Bangkok were sick of Thaksin, who many said was one of the most corrupt prime ministers in Thai history. Thais hoped the military could rule for a short time, put the country back on track, and then hold an election and hand over power to a democratic government. What happened was far from this.
The military government, under General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, ran the country until an election in December 2007 put Samak Sundaravej in office. Leader of the PPP (the People’s Power Party), Prime Minister Samak was a supporter of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin and was elected by the majority of the people as poor Thais support him, and rich Thais support the PAD.
This, of course, did not sit well with the military junta or the elite of Thailand, who wanted Thaksin and all his supporters out of political office and away from political power. Months of trying every trick in the book to get Samak out of office (even though he was, again, a democratically-elected prime minister, like Thaksin) ended up in Samak being kicked out, Thaksin’s cousin Somchai Wongsawat was put in place as prime minister, and then the PAD (the People’s Alliance for Democracy) who were anti-Thaksin went to work. They held demonstrations all over Bangkok, shut down Suvarnabhumi Airport for over a week, stranding over 300,000 tourists in Thailand, and damaging irreparably Thailand’s reputation overseas. They did, however, succeed in kicking out Somchai and installing their own prime minister, Abhisit Veggajiva who, at this time, in the eyes of many Thais is little more than a puppet prime minister of the elite of Thailand.
During this weekend’s third anniversary of the military coup in Thailand in 2006, red shirts (supporters of Thaksin) rallied in Bangkok to show him they still support him and want his return to Thailand as prime minister. Yellow shirts (the PAD) rallied in northern Thailand on the Cambodian border, to protest the fact that an ancient Khmer temple has been ruled to be owned by Cambodia, a fact they blamed Thaksin for. So, no, things have not improved in Thailand since the military coup. In fact, to many Thais, it’s categorically obvious that things are worse.
The Thai economy has suffered, tourism is down by 60%, Thai exports fell by up to 80% and Thailand’s image overseas is not a positive one. Throw in the red shirts burning cars and buses in Bangkok in April of this year and the PAD threatening more protests, more violence and more anarchy, and it’s highly unlikely things will improve in Thailand in the near future.
As a westerner living in Bangkok and one who observed the 2006 coup and its after effects, with what has happened in the last three years, to me it seems Thailand is more divided than it has ever been. On this the third anniversary of the coup weekend, it’s still Thai against Thai with no end in sight and with neither the red shirts or the yellow shirts willing to back down. Only time will tell if this will continue to its likely violent conclusion or will one side give way in order to do what’s best for the country. Hard to tell really.
Wikipedia – 2008-2009 Thai Political Crisis