As of this writing, there are 32 countries that have issued warnings against travel to Thailand. Of course, we see the political protests happenings on Thai television sets across the city, but here in Chiang Mai it mostly seems like a world away from the Bangkok-centered activities.
In no way are we claiming that we’re experts of these current events, but living here in Thailand, we can sense the change in the political climate’s barometric pressure. To understand what’s happening now, we had to do a bit of research as to what has happened over the past decade.
Thaksin Shinawatra, was the Prime Minister of Thailand until he was overthrown in a military coup in 2006, and has since lived in exile as there are criminal charges awaiting him upon his return. Since his ousting, political turmoil and periodic violence has plagued the country. A few weeks ago, in an effort to calm the waters and help the political parties reconcile, the government proposed an amnesty bill that would pardon Thaksin and others responsible for offenses that took place in the days following the coup.
Protesters immediately took to the streets to voice their disapproval of such a bill. Part of the controversy stems from the fact that Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is the current Prime Minister of Thailand. Regardless of the government’s true motivation for the bill, it has precipitated the division among the people of Thailand.
Although the Senate rejected the bill on November 13, demonstrations have continued throughout the country. Much of what we see now, on news channels and in the streets, are alternating scenes between red shirts and yellow ones.
The Yellow Shirts (People’s Alliance for Democracy), with their main supporters being upper- and middle-class royalists, is a group that formed in 2005 to protest against Thaksin. Last Sunday, during a yellow-shirt demonstration on the street outside our apartment, we were told that Prime Minister Yingluck is “simply a puppet for her brother, Thaksin.”
The Yellow Shirts are demanding that the current government be dissolved and that an unelected “people’s council” be used choose the country’s new leaders.
The Red Shirts movement (United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship) started in 2006 after Thaksin was overthrown. It draws the majority of support from the rural areas of Thailand. From what we understand, the Red Shirts approve of Prime Minister Yingluck and there are even some red-shirted members that hold seats in the current Thai parliament.
In the past there have been violent clashes between these two groups, but so far the current protests have mostly been peaceful. We’ll be the first to admit that the political situation in Thailand is complex, so we’re certainly not taking sides. We’re simply interested in observing history in the making.
How will these events affect tourism? Will there be a repeat of the violent protests of 2010? What will happen when Thailand celebrates Father’s Day (King Bhumibol’s birthday) on December 5?
We not only wonder about the affect this will have for Thailand and its citizens, but also what ramifications, if any, this might have on us, as foreigners, living here.