Katherine Condon (UWCAC, United Kingdom '13-’15)
“Unrest flared after Yingluck attempted to introduce an amnesty bill allowing her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to return to the country without facing imprisonment.”
Since the end of last year, mass demonstrations have engulfed Bangkok, with protesters demanding the resignation of Yingluck Shinawatra, current Prime Minister of Thailand and member of the Pheu Thai party. Unrest flared after Yingluck attempted to introduce an amnesty bill allowing her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to return to the country without facing imprisonment.
Thaksin was a controversial leader. His support lies in rural Thailand where his policies lifted many out of poverty, however he was ousted in a military coup in 2007 on charges of corruption. He now lives in Dubai in self-exile, nevertheless his regime lives on in Thailand through his sister’s governance.
Yingluck also faces scrutiny for her introduction of a rice-pledging scheme, whereby the government bought vast quantities of rice from Thai rice farmers at prices greater than the market value. This has cost the taxpayer millions of dollars, while a huge stock of rice decays in government warehouses.
In response to the unrest, Yingluck has dissolved parliament and will call elections on the second of February.
Leader of the anti-government protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, has urged his followers to boycott the elections. Suthep wants to replace the government with an unelected People’s Council, completely reforming Thai politics. Since the end of last year, his protesters have occupied government ministries and intersections around the city. Several of the rallies have resulted in violence, with explosives and gun shots being fired. On Friday, a bomb exploded at Chulalongkorn University, 36 people were injured and 1 person killed. There is the overhanging threat of a military coup if clashes continue.
When I visited the capital last month, there was a palpably tense atmosphere. Yingluck’s face angrily scratched out of the Pheu Thai posters that festoon the city, grim faces at the prospect of city wide shutdowns. Nevertheless, schools re-opened, large areas of the metropolis remained untouched by protesting, and tourists flocked to Thai beaches to celebrate the New Year.
In a country with a long history of political turmoil, widespread resentment cripples Thailand. It is difficult to predict how the deep ruptures between pro and anti-government parties will be alleviated, or which direction Thai politics will take. For now, the world must watch the events unfurl and wait with baited breath.
-The United Words Team-