The political crisis in Thailand finds itself neglected among world issues. As protests and violence erupt in places as diverse as the Ukraine, Egypt, and Syria, the situation in the Asian nation of Thailand is not attracting the same level of world attention. The current Thai government faces a February 2nd deadline to hold new elections. A recent ruling by the country’s Constitution Court held that these elections could potentially be delayed, leading to increased protests by anti-government forces.
The crisis in Thailand began in November of 2013. The current government is led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra; however, protestors accuse her of being unduly influenced by her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin is a former prime minister and was forced from office in a coup back in 2006. He currently resides in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Thaksin was responsible for implementing many populist policies in Thailand and some of these policies were continued by Yingluck’s administration, leading to the charges of a connection between the two.
One of these policies involved paying subsidies to Thailand’s rice farmers. The export of rice is a vital component of the Thai economy. However, in recent years, the price of rice from Thailand has exceeded that of rice from neighboring Vietnam and India. This is due in part to the subsidies paid to Thai rice farmers. The result has been damaging to the overall Thai economy as international business and commodity traders have stopped purchasing rice from Thailand in favor of their cheaper competitors. The poor state of the economy in Thailand has accelerated this political crisis that has been neglected among world issues.
The administration of Yingluck Shinawatra wants the elections to go forward as scheduled. She had hoped that by agreeing to elections, the three-month old protests would end. However the demands of protestors go beyond simply changing the occupant of the prime minister’s residence. Protestors are seeking fundamental changes to Thailand’s political system. They are demanding a so-called “people’s council” be installed to run the country and an entirely new political structure be implemented. Protest leaders have offered few details about what kind of government they would prefer however. They also demand that Yingluck step down from office immediately in favor of this proposed council.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has stated that despite the objections of some protest factions, he will not order his followers to obstruct or otherwise impede the upcoming election. He did say that demonstrations will be organized outside of polling stations, but he is making no call for violence or active obstruction. This comes amidst reports that another opposition leader, Suthin Thararin, was killed in Bangkok and nine other people were injured in a clash with government forces outside a temple.
It is unknown at this time whether the election will go forward next week as planned. The election commission in Thailand has expressed agreement with the court decision to delay the process, despite the government wanting to proceed. A significant number of protestors do not want an election at all, as noted above. The result is an unstable political crisis in Thailand that has been neglected among world issues.
Editorial By Christopher V. Spencer