OK, I am going to write something hugely unpopular again....
The closure of major airports in Bangkok in the past few days have caused more than widespread disruption to travellers from the world over; it also brought to our attention the issue of 'democratic deficiency' and the deep-lying social tensions (along class lines?) in the Kingdom of Smiles.
As someone who spent several years living in South East Asia as a child, I started visiting Thailand since my secondary school days. First it was short weekend trips to the Thai capital with school friends, then longer visits to northern Thailand and the surrounding scenic hills. Because a close buddy of mine from my school days in Singapore came from Thailand, this country has never been quite alien to me. One of my very first impressions of political turmoils in Thailand came in 1985 during one of the military coups. I was surprised by the extreme ease and carefree attitude with which the Thai population go about their daily lives amid the crisis.
The fact that more than 10 military coups have taken place since 1932 underlines how fragile and instable the democratic political system in Thailand is. Without some knowledge of Thai language and local politics, most foreign visitors to Thailand could only skim the surface of this highly complex society without ever coming into contact with the non-tourist parts of Thailand's social fabric. Underneath all the 'big city, bright lights' of modern urban Thailand, the country is deeply religious, traditional and - most important of all - highly class-conscious. One's perceived social status and class origins remain extremely important to most Thais, which in part explained why Thais with darker skin colours are looked down upon in their own country, because people with fairer complexions (meaning they do not need to labour under the burining sun to make their ends meet) are considered to be socially and financially more superior than those with brown skins.
Unlike her immediate neighbours, Thailand has never been under communist rule, nor was she colonised by western powers, Due to her neutrality during the Second World War, the country did not suffer large-scale damage to her infrastructure or socio-economic systems. Yet the problem of rural poverty, illiteracy, income inequality and social divide is just as great, if not more, than some of her less fortunate neighbours in South East Asia. Just take a look at Bangkok's slums and the notorious nightlife spots, where young girls and boys from poverty-ridden provinces such as Issan are available for as little as 100 Bahts (about 2-2.50 Euro), you know something is not right. This is not some war-torn countries in Africa or Central America on the brink of social collapse we are talking about, but a country that has pried herself for being never involved in large-scale military conflicts in her modern history. One has got to ask themselves: why is economic hardship and daily struggle to survive still such a major issue in the lives of ordinary working-class Thais?
In recent years, political protests and mass demonstrations have become almost a daily occurence in Thailand, in large part due to the rise to (and fall from) power of the controversial businessman/telecom tycoon turned politician, Thaksin Shinawatra. I will refrain from making any judgements about current situation in the Thai capital, because it is not easy for a casual observer like me to comment on the moral merits or political rights or wrongs of Mr. Thaksin, especially when one gets very little information or insightful analysis in foreign media about political developments in Thailand. Virtually all we read about in the news coverage overseas are about the ongoing corruption allegations against Mr. Thaksin and his political allies.
I came across the following article in BBC website, which seems to provide views from both pro- and anti-Thaksin camps. Usually I have my reservations when it comes to BBC articles, because some of their foreign correspondents (notably the ones stationed in Beijing) came up with quite a lot of craps, but this one seems quite sincere in his attempt to shed some light on the background to the ongoing political saga in Thailand that puzzled many of us who are not so familiar with Thai politics:
Here is the full text of the above-mentioned article:
Thai crisis exposes class struggle
By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok
For weeks the yellow-shirted protesters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have hogged the limelight in Thailand.
With the backing of powerful military and palace figures, they have helped unseat one prime minister and two members of his cabinet.
The embattled government, led by allies of controversial former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has in vain protested that it was popularly elected less than a year ago.
Now it has started fighting back with a series of mass rallies by its own red-shirted followers.