Thailand: Days Of Red And Yellow Return


August 31, 2020: The large, anti-military/royalist demonstrations are returning. The government threatened to retaliate ruthlessly if that happened and so far, the government reaction has been timid and cautious. This situation is similar to what caused the May 2014 coup, which came after months of political protests in the capital. The 2014 tensions remain but some things have changed. Another coup is unlikely because the military would be overthrowing an elected military government. That election was only possible because the 2014 coup government changed the constitution to make it easy for the military to win elections and control parliament. The current demonstrators want to get rid of that.

The “yellow shirt “ royalist and nationalist politicians and parties that lost the national elections in 2011 sought to regain power any way they could. In 2014 they convinced the pro-royalist Constitutional Court to rule that the elected prime minister had to resign and allow the installation of a temporary prime minister until elections could be held. The populists/democrat red shirts saw all this is another illegal ploy by the royalists to thwart the will of the people. At that point red shirt politicians still controlled a majority of the seats in parliament and had the right to appoint a temporary prime minister. Red shirts also pointed out that the Constitutional Court first declared the February 2014 elections (which the elected prime minister called to show that she still had majority support) invalid because some voting places were blocked by mobs of yellow shirt protestors. It’s generally agreed that this court decision was absurd and the populists demand that the deposed populist prime minister be reinstated or that new elections be held as soon as possible. While the elected prime minister was accused of corruption, her supporters point out that these legal moves by the royalists are dishonest and just another form of corruption. The army saw a deadlock and stepped in and took power via yet another coup. In other words, the decade old political struggle continues. Both sides have sought to avoid civil war but the possibility of a more violent escalation increases as fewer non-violent options remain. Meanwhile the military has other problems.

Naval Priorities

Earlier in the year t he navy cut its 2020 spending by a third. That led to eliminating a lot of its 2020 ship modernization work and delaying the arrival of two Chinese built submarines. The 2017 order for three diesel-electric submarines was criticized for the high cost ($1.3 billion) and lack of much for the subs to do. Only the first of those subs is actually on order. Purchase orders for the other two subs were expected in 2021 and 2022. If all three subs were actually bought Thailand would be making payments into the late 2020s. In parliament the opposition tried to get the orders for the other two subs cancelled but all they could get was delaying the placement of the orders by a year. Inside the navy many admirals point out the need to address more immediate threats. For example, smuggling via boat is a growing problem. It is worse in the far south were Moslem smuggling gangs used small boats to bring in weapons, drugs and illegal migrants (who were headed for Malaysia, whose maritime borders are better guarded). The senior admirals want the subs, if only to establish closer relationships with China. The first sub won’t arrive until 2024.

August 30, 2020: The royalists mustered about a thousand demonstrators who held a pro-government rally in a stadium. Many participants wore yellow shirts.

August 29, 2020: No new covid19 cases were reported for today. As more visitors are allowed in, there have been more infected people in August. Illegal migrants are also a problem. In July Thailand had gone more than 60 days without any new covid19 cases. A disciplined population and an effective national health system made the difference. Thailand so far has 3,400 confirmed cases of covid19 (coronavirus) which comes out to 49 cases per million population and 0.8 deaths per million. Those numbers hardly changed over the last month. Such was not the case with other nations in the region. Neighbor Malaysia had 288 cases per million population cases and four deaths per million.

The stark difference here was because Thailand had a public health system that extended to the lowest levels (villages and city neighbors) with volunteers making up most of the staff and obtaining directions and medical supplies from the government. That meant a strict quarantine was not necessary and compliance was monitored and enforced by locals. In Malaysia some Moslem clerics defied quarantine rules and continued holding prayer services in crowded mosques. Because more people in Malaysia were infected, some Thai Moslems working in Malaysia tried to return home infected with covid19. A screening and approval process was set up to catch most of these virus carriers before they got home and infected others.

Another potential source of infections was the large number of Chinese tourists and commercial visitors that are normally in the country. Foreigners were sent home as soon as possible. While still in Thailand foreigners were forced to self-quarantine for two weeks before they could move freely. Even then they were avoided by most Thais.

August 28, 2020: Over the last few weeks more roads from neighboring Burma have been closed and thousands of troops assigned to patrol rural sections of the border and prevent Burmese job seekers from entering Thailand and bringing covid19 with them. Thailand has been more effective at controlling the epidemic and that means Burma, with a lot more infected people, is now the major source of infected people trying to enter Thailand.

August 20, 2020: A month of popular protests against the paramilitary government and more assertive monarchy resulted in arrests of dozens of entertainers and other suspected organizers of these events. Those arrested were soon released, with warnings that prosecution remained a possibility. The basic demands were for parliament to be dissolved, a new constitution, an end to harassment of government opponents and reforms of the monarchy.

August 14, 2020: In the south (Pattani province) troops found and surrounded an Islamic terrorist camp. Negotiations with the men in the camp failed and a gun battle ensured. Two Islamic terrorists died while three soldiers were wounded. Some terrorists had escaped from the camp and these were tracked down the next day. Another gun battle took place and the bodies of two terrorists were found. After another day two more dead bodies were found nearby. These two men escaped the earlier gun battles but were badly wounded and unable to get away and obtain medical help. The seven dead terrorists were apparently responsible for the bomb used on the 13th to kill a soldier and earlier bombings as well.

August 13, 2020: In the south (Pattani province) Islamic terrorists used a bomb to kill a soldier who was providing security for local teachers. The army quickly moved out to find the bombers. Separatists and Islamic terrorists often attack school teachers on their way to work. The teachers are often Buddhists. Violence like this has declined considerably since covid19 showed up in March. The men responsible for the violence are still around and expected to become more active by the end of the year. In July were several attacks, all in Pattani province, that wounded about a dozen soldiers and civilians. There was about the same amount of violence in August, but more of the casualties were terrorists and separatists. The casualties have remained low since April with most of the violence taking place in Pattani province. There aren’t many active terrorists left in the south and most are in Pattani. Negotiations with BRN, the main separatist political group, are still stalled. This is mainly because of disagreements within the separatist groups. Most southerners want an end to the violence, which has been going on since 2004 and killed about 7,000 so far.

Elsewhere in the south (Narathiwat province) soldiers escorting teachers to work were attacked with a bomb. One soldier was killed and six wounded.




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