Sunday, March 28, 2010

1976 Thammasat University massacre and the origins of Thailand's political instability

Politics is a very divisive issue in Thailand and is not a subject for the faint hearted!!!!

The deep schism that currently exists in Thai society is clearly demonstrated by the on-going protests and clashes between the Red Shirts of the UDD (United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship) and the Yellow-shirted supporters of the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy).

The principles of democracy and the idea of an accountable, civilian-run government, chosen by universal suffrage, are still in their relative infancy. Today, the country is still struggling to produce a political establishment and institutions that have the support of the population and are free from bribery, corruption and scandal.

Although the country officially became a constitutional monarchy democracy in 1932, it was plagued by a succession of military dictatorships which stifled the growth of an elected civilian government.

A student-led revolution in 1973 brought about a short lived and unstable period of democracy, with elections in January 1975 and April 1976, producing a series of fragile coalition governments. The transition from military to civilian rule has been arduous, violent and often bloody.

In the opinion of many observers, the seeds of today's violence and hatred were sown with the Massacre on the 6th October, 1976 at Thammasat University, known as "Hok Tulaa".

It was a violent crackdown, by the army, police and right-wing paramilitaries, on students who were demonstrating against the return of former dictator, Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn. During the protests, a mock hanging took place, which was supposedly inspired by the murder of two other demonstrators. However, a photo of the effigy was allegedly doctored to resemble the Crown Prince and then published in several leading newspapers including, the Bangkok Post. This prompted the government to claim the students were communists who intended to overthrow the monarchy.

The massacre began with the army storming the campus, followed by an orgy of violence, during which protestors we beaten, shot, hung and burnt to death. Official figures said that 46 peole were killed but testimonies from survivors state that the number was much higher.

A leading figure in orchastrating the events was Samak Sundaravej, who went on to serve as Prime Minister in 2007. But the evil bugger got his just desserts, dying of cancer in 2009!!!

If you would like to learn more about this event please click the following link.....but do bear in mind there are quite a few nasty photos like the one above!!!

http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1047&Itemid=31

Immediately after the massacre, a military junta seized power and remained in government until 1980.

The 1980's saw a gradual process of democractisation led by General Prem Tinsulanonda who ruled until 1988 when he was deafted in an election by Chatichai Choonhavan. The country remained relatively peaceful until 1991 when the elected government was overthrown in a coup which culminated in rioting and the deaths of hundreds of protestors on the streets of Bangkok in May 1992, and became known as "Bloody May".

The rest of the 90's was characterised by a merry-go-round of Prime Ministers, weak coalition governments, corruption, economic mismanagement and the spectacular "Asian Financial Crisis" all of which served to weaken and undermine the growth of democracy.

In my humble opinion, one of the most interesting and challenging periods in the history of Thai politics started in 2001 with the accession to power of the populist Thai Rak Thai party, led by Prime Minister Mr T.......

Urm sorry, wrong Mr T.!!!!!.......I meant Thaksin Shinawatra!!!!

Khun Shinawatra governed from 2001 until 2006, but was ousted in another military sponsored coup d'état, led by General Sonthi, amid claims of corruption and mass street protests. Thaksin had his diplomatic passport cancelled, bank accounts and assets frozen and an arrest warrant was issued.

A general election, held in December 2007, restored a civilian government. But, this continued to fan the flames of controversy and unrest, as the winner of the election was non-other than Samak Sundaravej, loyal Thaksin supporter and one of the shadowy figures behind the Thammasat University massacre!!!!

During 2008, the anti-Thaksin movement known the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) exerted enormous pressure on Khun Samak to resign but he refused. The situation came to a head in August when PAD suporters occupied government buildings, disrupted air travel and partially closed the transport network.

The problems continued throughout 2009, with the UDD and PAD organised rallies and counter-rallies and the tension increased several notches when Thaksin accepted a job as economic advisor to Cambodia!!!!

What does the future hold for Thai politics?

I believe opposing political factions will be at logger heads for years to come and this will only have a negative impact on the country.

In order to end the stalemate, 2 key things need to happen.

Firstly, there needs to be a crackdown on corruption. However, this will not be easy but this is as corruption is endemic and permeates the whole society. There will need to be a masssive change in people's social outlook but this could take a generation.

Secondly, until Thailand resolves the social inequalities there will always be an under current of politcal instability. There are increasing numbers of enormously wealthy Thais and the gap between rich and poor is growing at an alarming rate. The provision of good quality education, healthcare services and improvements to the infrastructure are fundamental too.

A really good book on this topic is called "Thaksin: the business of politics in Thailand" and was written by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Christopher John Baker.

This can be read online by following the link below......

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=bPjRk3FMEJwC&dq=politics+in+thailand&printsec=frontcover&source=in&hl=en&ei=NGhZS-_eEsLr-AammL0B&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=11&ved=0CCwQ6AEwCg#v=onepage&q=&f=false

A particular favourite of mine is by the author Thak Chaloemtiarana and is entitled "Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism". It gives you a fantstic overview of how Thai socity and politics developed after 1932.

Please click the following link if you would like to download a copy of this book or read it online.

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=bUQOJVyFi5gC&dq=politics+in+thailand&printsec=frontcover&source=in&hl=en&ei=NGhZS-_eEsLr-AammL0B&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=12&ved=0CC4Q6AEwCw#v=onepage&q=&f=false

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