Thailand: Little Sister Kicks Ass


July 17, 2011: The low-level civil war that has been going on for the last six years is over. The Royalists (yellow shirts) have acknowledged that the majority of Thais do not support them and are abiding by the results of the July 3rd election. The royalists (also called the urban elite) gained power via a coup in 2006, and held onto it using tainted elections. For years, the Royalists tried to capture and prosecute the Populist (red shirt) leader, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The royalists and urban elites believed that the capture, trial and imprisonment of Shinawatra might break the will of the populists, or convince Shinawatra to switch sides. Last year, the courts moved to seize half of Shinawatra's fortune ($1.4 billion) as a fine for being corrupt. This was an unpopular move, since nearly all Thai politicians are corrupt, and people wondered who was going to get the $1.4 billion. The red shirts threatened violence over the seizure, although Shinawatra, from exile in Dubai, urged calm and only non-violent demonstrations. Many Royalists believed that Shinawatra was financing the populist violence with this money. The royalists have contempt for the poor and less educated red shirts, and this is returned with resentment and growing anger towards the wealthier and better educated urban population that opposes majority rule. This anger has not been extinguished by the government use of force against those demonstrating for fair elections and a restoration of democracy. Such class warfare is nothing new. There were similar outbreaks in the 1970s and 1990s. But the current one is more widespread and having more of a negative impact on the economy.

This time Thaksin Shinawatra outsmarted and outmaneuvered his opponents. He managed to get a new political party (the PTP, or Puea Thai Party) organized and then, two months before the July 3rd parliament elections, he introduced something no one expected. His younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra came forward as the lead candidate of the new party. She is young (44), pretty, rich and has many of the same political and business skills as her brother. Yingluck only began campaigning in May, but immediately shot to the front in the polls, taking her party with her. Although long active in her older brother's businesses (which grew from Shinawatra family firms that have been around since the 19th century) Yingluck was considered untouchable by prosecutors seeking to nail her brother for corruption. Moreover, until two years ago, Yingluck expressed no interest in politics. In 2009 she began getting involved, but in a low key way. Thus the government never really had her on their radar, and were caught by surprise when Yingluck suddenly entered the electoral campaign and attracted widespread popularity. The red shirts were electrified by the appearance of Yingluck, who was seen as the same kind of energetic and dynamic politician as her brother. She will also be the first woman to run Thailand. By law, the new parliament must convene 30 days after the election, and the new prime minister must be selected and take control of the government within 60 days. 

The defeat of the royalists was celebrated in Cambodia, as it is generally agreed that the royalists have encouraged the current border dispute with Cambodia, as an attempt to gain some political popularity in Thailand. That did not work, as the results of the July 3rd elections demonstrated. The new government is expected to quickly settle the border dispute.

In the south, three Moslem farmers were killed, probably by Islamic terrorists seeking to keep the Moslem population in line. This has proved increasingly difficult as all locals come to regard the Islamic militants as what many of them actually are; gangsters trying to operate behind religion.

July 15, 2011: In the south, a teenage student was killed and two bystanders wounded by an unidentified gunman. It's unclear if this attack was Islamic terrorism or some gang related dispute. Often the two are intertwined.

On the Cambodian border, a Cambodian Moslem religious teacher was arrested after he was found to be carrying videos of weapons training in southern Thailand.

July 13, 2011: The election commission has refused to confirm 142 of the 500 members of parliament (MP) and has accused Yingluck Shinawatra of corruption. This move represents the diehard attitude of some royalists, who are not willing to give up power. This effort to block Yingluck Shinawatra from taking over the government is expected to fail (the diehards are too few in number), but it will take at least a week to deal with.

July 12, 2011: The last official act of the outgoing government was to extend the state of emergency (first declared in 2005) in the three southern provinces.

July 11, 2011: In the south, a moderate Islamic religious teacher and his wife were killed by Islamic terrorists. The Islamic radicals had tried before, and threatened the man many times. Elsewhere in the south, four terrorist bombs went off, wounding 12 people.

July 8, 2011: The army accepted the results of the July 3rd election, even though the generals had led the illegal efforts to keep the minority royalists in power for the last five years. What helped the generals decide was the fact that most of the lower ranking soldiers voted for the PTP. While some generals are still willing to risk a civil war, they are a minority, and that keeps them from taking action.

July 7, 2011: The army will recruit Moslem soldiers for a counter-terrorism regiment that will specialize in dealing with the unrest in the three southern Moslem provinces. The regiment will be permanently stationed in the south and is something of an experiment. It might not work.

July 4, 2011: Yingluck Shinawatra, despite having 265 of 500 seats in parliament, formed a coalition with some smaller parties, and now controls 299 seats.

July 3, 2011: Yingluck Shinawatra, the youngest sister of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and her Puea Thai Party won today's election. PTP and its red shirt supporters won most of the seats in parliament, so Yingluck Shinawatra will not need a coalition to form a government.

July 1, 2011: In the south, a car bomb was found, and went off as a bomb disposal technician was approaching in a special protective suit. He was slightly injured.



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