Thailand: Shopping For Votes

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August 13, 2014: The military government is prosecuting former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra for corruption. The charges have to do with a popular, and very expensive, government program that bought rice from Thai farmers at higher prices than the world market. This helped Shinawatra get elected in 2011. The anti-corruption officials accuse her of getting this program enacted for political, not economic reasons. Shinawatra believes she can beat the charges in court, which is why she returned to Thailand as she said she would. Many military leaders also believe Shinawatra could beat the charges and then provide the pro-democracy movement with a new symbol and leader to rally around. These generals were hoping Shinawatra would not return after the generals allowed her to travel abroad in July. Meanwhile the generals and their backers among royalists and the urban elite are pushing the anti-corruption program. That means prominent royalists (“Yellow Shirts”) already being prosecuted for corruption are not getting any special treatment and some have been jailed since the generals took over.  

Opinion polls show over 80 percent of Thais believe the chronic political problems (as with the recent coup and the months of urban unrest that preceded that) are the main reason the economy does not flourish as much as many Thai’s believe it should. GDP is down over two percent this year (so far) compared to 2013 and most Thais blame all the political chaos. The generals got the message and are hustling to get the economy going. They have turned to China for help and the Chinese prefer to do business with non-democratic governments. This sort of thing, plus continued corruption prosecutions and many new measures to boost the economy have resulted in the generals getting a 79 percent approval rating in a recent poll. Most Thais want democracy but most also want a secure economic future and the generals are playing on that to retain power (even after elections.)   

The generals have announced new elections in October 2015. Meanwhile the military has created and implemented a new, temporary, constitution that is now in effect. By July 2015 there will be a permanent new constitution that will probably be very pro-military, pro-monarchy and hostile to populists who get elected in large numbers. The problem is that the majority of Thais oppose military rule and the elitist ideas of the political minority that demonstrated violently for over a year against an elected governments they didn’t agree with. When the demonstrations didn’t work the military was persuaded to again depose an elected government. The military temporarily cures the symptoms, not the disease that causes all this unrest.

A lot of Thais don’t expect political life to get better because this coup is characterized by energetic efforts to stamp out any visible opposition. The government is paying a $16.50 reward for useful information about people openly critical of the coup and the military government. Those people are arrested, questioned and sometimes prosecuted. Over a thousand people have been arrested so far, mostly in the capital. In the rest of the country, as usual, there is less protest and less military and police effort to crack down. The pro-democracy government (that was elected by a majority of Thais) the generals overthrew in May is having all its supporters in the government dismissed. But the political sentiments of most Thais have not changed.

August 10, 2014: Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra returned, as she said she would when she left the country on July 23rd.

August 7, 2014: The new “temporary” parliament met for the first time. All members were selected by the generals and approved by the king. Some 52 percent of the members of parliament are active or retired military or police commanders. A separate 250 member Reform Council will also be selected to change the legal system.

July 30, 2014: The new government approved a new budget that was heavy on spending for much-needed infrastructure work. This is includes long-deferred work on the railroad. In addition to repairs, the rail network will be expanded and upgraded to include high-speed lines, including one to China.

July 29, 2014: Cambodia agreed to not provide sanctuary for Thai anti-coup activists (“Red Shirts”). The Thai military government is seeking to arrest many red shirt leaders and some are known to have fled the country.

July 27, 2014: In the south (Pattani province) a roadside bomb killed a child and wounded seven other bystanders. The explosion missed its intended target, soldiers returning from a patrol. Islamic terrorists are believed responsible.

July 25, 2014: In the south (Yala province) an Islamic terrorist bomb killed two and wounded ten.  

July 23, 2014: In the south (Pattani province) a remote controlled bomb went off outside a hotel killing two and wounding 36. Islamic terrorists are believed responsible.

 

 

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