I’ve spent some time in Thailand over the last couple of years and really like the country. I like the people, the food, the culture, the hustle, the bustle, the films… but their politics is something else. The current situation as I write exemplifies this.
A couple of years ago, as a result of protests and threatened legal action, the then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stepped down and ran out of the country. Despite a huge pile of allegations of fraud and other financial misdealings, he was deemed suitable by the English FA to own and run a football club so he bought Manchester City and settled down in the UK.
That situation has now changed and some new reports say that he’s now no longer allowed back into the UK as he was found guilty in absentia in the Thai courts. Regardless, the government that took over in Thailand was voted in and is currently headed by Thaksin’s brother-in-law. Not ideal, given that Thaksin’s wife was also found guilty of corruption.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has caused more civil unrest. The party say they were voted in legally. The challengers say that they bought that vote by bribing many of the poorer people up and down the country – of which there are many tens of thousands. Either way, the solution to the problem appears to be the same as it was only a couple of years ago – storm the capital and bring the country to a grinding halt.
Not long after I left Thailand the first time I received a couple of emails from a guy I met while I was travelling. He’d been watching TV when all the channels went dead, to be replaced by something written in Thai that he couldn’t read. Tanks rolled through the streets of Bangkok and a fairly peaceful coup took place. An interim government was set up and barely 18 months later, we’re back where we were only with more protests.
While I was in Malaysia recently, I wanted to get the train up into Thailand but that was scuppered as most train stations in souther Thailand (along with three provincial airports) had been hit and closed by protesters. Nothing particularly violent, but enough to collapse a huge proportion of the infrastructure. Everything was uncertain as regards when transport would start running again to the point where the otherwise excellent Malaysian train system would happily sell you a ticket north… and then ask you to hop off the train at Butterworth and offer a refund for the remainder of the trip.
But now it seems things have reached a head with the taking of Bangkok’s major Suvarnabhumi Airport. Tourists and other travellers are stranded, food and water supplies are running out, air conditioning has been shut off and all the TVs in the lounges have been retuned to a gardening channel so that nobody knows what’s going on.
One thing makes me wonder – was Thailand ever really going to be better off as a democracy? Their king is still widely revered as a near god-like figure, not just an inherited position and the people do listen to him. Perhaps the people of Bhutan have something to learn from this given that they are a brand new democracy also.
Sometimes you wonder if it would be better to leave things as they once were. I’m not saying democracy is a bad thing – nor any other form of government rule – more that trying to change a whole country’s philosophy and structure. It’s too late now, though.
Hopefully, one day, Thailand will settle down into something resembling stability. It’s a wonderful country, but there’s always someone who’ll try and take advantage of any system. For Thailand’s sake, I hope they get it all resolved sooner rather than later – and not just because I can’t wait for my next visit.