Fascinating insight into what's going on Simon, and great set of photos. :-)
Comforting to know that it still exists in our troubled world.
Thanks for this Simon, I've been to Thailand but never had any sense of the politics. Fascinating.
Excellent Simon, thank you so much for contextualizing this for us.
Many years ago at PA I wrote something bemoaning the lack of coverage in the NZ media about one of those earlier flashpoints you mentioned in this country with which we have a long relationship (holidays, partners, friends, even the local Thai takeaway). I regret to say the local media coverage has been even worse than woeful (you'd wait for a veryveryvery long time to get anything on TVOne or TV3, and the Herald seems to prefer Kiev for its protest/burning tyres stories . . . even though Bangkok is just that little bit closer . . . and people have said to me in the past few days, "Do you think it's safe?"
Many people her care on behalf of family and/or friends but are just not getting the information, let alone the background.
Again, thanks. G
Thanks, Simon. This is so enlightening, explaining a mess and a muddle in a manner I haven't encountered before.
Me too! Thanks for the greater context - especially the historical aspects. I do have to wonder:
1: What are the chances of a coup?
2: Where does the royal family fit in all of this?
3: You make it seem as if Suthep Thaugsuban is losing some of his popularity. Is he fading into obscurity? Are people getting bored? Or realising that times are moving them in a direction they can't control? Is a new leader emerging, or likely to emerge?
1. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say slim-ish. Last time the world turned on the Thai military and they lost contracts and contacts. They're also still reeling from the aftermath of 2010. That said, if the violence spins out of control, who knows. The Thai military have ties to both the US and Chinese and I'd imagine behind the scenes all sorts of stuff is going on to ensure they don't.
Plus the head military guy is due to retire in 5 months - I'm not sure he wants to be running a country.
2. The succession is the elephant in the room that nobody talks about for good reason (lèse majesté laws prevent me from saying too much too). Behind all this there are massive power games going on and in a way the broad future of Thailand is being mapped out. This really is the old world versus the new - it's just a shame that Thaksin is such a bloody rogue and that rather gets in the middle of this fight for the future. Sadly, although the mob obsesses about bought votes and such, it's hard to get past the notion that they're being played as much as anyone in Thailand is.
3. The last few days, with the violent blocking of voting booths and the roaming thugs seem to have severely reduced Suthep's credibility, and last night Asoke junction was very, very quiet for the normal rallying speeches. Before that he was losing at least visible support (for similar reasons) as the crowds shrank. There's an obvious distancing of people from him and his words, plus people just have lives to live. That said, he has a hardcore which is increasingly so and it's difficult to see them evaporating without tough measures. This will get messy I think.
A new leader? No, not yet, but it's clear many of the younger generation have had enough of this bullshit, from both sides. But like the US, finding a way through the establishment is nigh on impossible.
The Thai military have ties to both the US and Chinese
The Chinese?! Now that does thicken the plot somewhat. China's good at stepping into vaccuums the US and Western powers generally leave. Still, it certainly does seem there's a fair bit of ratcheting up of tension before a coup becomes imminent.
The Chinese?! Now that does thicken the plot somewhat. C
All complicated by the South China Sea of course, but the Thai military have been quite even balancing both the US and China.
Then there are all the condos and beach houses that are Chinese owned ... it wouldn't do to see a property crash here :)
Thanks a lot for your wonderful insight into what's going on. Really appreciate it.
Excellent post. Thanks Simon. Now I at least have the first inkling of a clue to what's going on.
Now I at least have the first inkling of a clue to what’s going on.
Nope. I’m going back for another read. So is Suthep the equivalent of Winston?
Oh and , fantastic photos. Nice lens or is that a fantastic phone Simon?
the South China Sea of course
Of course. And the Mekong - remember that case when the crew of a Chinese boat was massacred by a notorious drug gang a couple of years back? That sparked new, closer security cooperation on the upper Mekong. And, of course, the worries downstream countries have of China damming the Lancang (as the Mekong is known north of the border). But I was also thinking that, in the unlikely event of another coup, ties with China give the Thai military a fallback option if the US imposes sanctions. And China [ahem] understands how it is trying to pacify the mob. China can certainly sympathise with the authoritarian instincts some in Bangkok are displaying.
Likewise, I've been wondering what China's been up to in Fiji since Bainimarama's coup, but I've seen nothing more than one or two vague hints. Certainly a lot of Bainimarama's moves seem to have come straight out of Han Feizi's playbook, something that Zhongnanhai can certainly appreciate, and China's never ignored or turned its nose up at building closer ties with much smaller countries. But, as I said, I've seen only slightly more than nothing written on the subject.
Sofie, it’s a Canon Powershot G1X – a super-snappy that I like. I’ve been a fan of the G line for a while.
Winston – I’d not really thought about that but you could almost say that :) He’s the “Man of The People” but only in his own mind and that of his supporters.
But I was also thinking that, in the unlikely event of another coup, ties with China give the Thai military a fallback option if the US imposes sanctions.
A couple of years back the US sent a very high level delegation to Bangkok, which included members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to talk ties (they’re after a U2 base near Pattaya on the old Vietnam War era B-52 base, now a Thai Navy base – Thailand says no). Fully aware they were coming, and without notice, the whole Thai top military strata debunked to Beijing for ‘talks’ which left the US generals talking to second level officers. The reality is China remains far more important to Thailand (and most of SEA) than the US despite western media and political dis-information about regional unease over the country. Mostly that’s US wishful thinking.
The Thai and Chinese navies have joint patrols on the Mekong now I think.
And read this about Thailand in Granny Harold today
Interesting Sofie and a little one eyed I’d suggest. Here’s another eye. This was taken in Asoke about 20 minutes ago and it’s Suthep roaring to the crowd. The thing is, a month ago the crowd would’ve been large. Tonight I stood in the midst of no more than 1500 people of whom a third or so were tourists. The common comment here is how little things have been disrupted. The article talks of passport problems – the office moved long ago and people are saying there are no issues.
I thought this was one of the more interesting external articles I’ve read of late – it’s a war of attrition out there.
I have no idea why that went up sideways. Maybe it's an iOS statement on Thailand :)
Any thoughts on this snap election? Is it going to change anything?
It changes things in that Pheu Thai likely has a mandate of sorts after Feb. 23rd when the elections’ first results are in. A few other things:
1) The armed forces heads all voted, which is taken as support for the democratic process, i.e. no coup.
2) Suthep tonight announced a major pullback of 3 of his 6 his protest sites, from Lat Prao, Victory Monument (my favourite name in BKK – in 1942 a general lost a war against Cambodia, came back and said we won, and they built a plinth) and Chaeng Wattana, the massive and kinda cool government site in the north of Bangkok. I watched the speech and he was cackling semi-coherently like a man lost.
3) 89% of Thailand voted without incident and it’s widely seen as a success for the incumbents. See image (green cool, orange some problems, brown no vote – byelections next week).
I spend the day out and about. In most of the city it was a gorgeous quiet Sunday with people out, voting and spending time with their families. Suthep had called for citywide road paralysis but there was no uptake at all. On the Rama 1 strip (the central shopping district) there was a massed gathering which they called a protest picnic, and it was really busy but mostly just people hanging out in a semi-carnival sort of atmosphere. The malls were packed and there was a massive streetmarket. Fun.
This will go on for a while but Suthep has had the wind taken from his sails, not least by the gunfight last night where his thugs in the far north of the city were captured by various media including the BBC, attacking folks who wanted to vote with semi-automatic weaponry! The whole country was severely shaken and it was lucky nobody was badly hurt. Awful stuff.
This doesn't look good.
Hope you and yours are OK, Simon.