Sunday, February 23, 2014

Political Update

Last weekend Mary and I made a trip to Chang Mai and Mae Hong Son Provinces.  I'll give a detailed update on that soon, but first I want to update some key events from the ongoing political unrest in Thailand.

The political situation is still quite tense here, but protest areas can still be avoided..  The government has become increasingly desperate in it's attempts to end the political crisis.  At the same time the protesters have been increasingly angered by the governments actions which seems to be adding additional energy to the protests.

Recent Violence
The government launched a campaign to retake control of a number of protest sites earlier this week.  This resulted in violence breaking out on Tuesday at the Phan Fah Bridge near Democracy Monument in Bangkok.  6 people died (1 police officer, 5 protesters) and 63 were injured.

There have also been almost daily grenade attacks near protest sites.  On Friday night 5 people were injured when a hand grenade was thrown into a group of cars near the Pathumwan protest site.
Last night a political rally in the south eastern province of Trat was attacked by gunmen.  The causality numbers are not firm yet, but reports right now indicate 2 dead and 41 injured.  At least 1 of the deaths was a young girl who was helping her grandmother wash dishes at a noodle stall outside of the protest and was hit in the head by a stray bullet.  Very sad.

Angry Rice Farmers
Rural rice farmers who are considered the voting support base of the current government are becoming increasingly upset as well.  The government's rice subsidy scheme is out of money and many farmers who supplied rice to the government under the scheme have not been paid.  The government has tried to secure loans to pay the farmers, but nobody is willing to lend money to the troubled government.

Farmers from west of Bangkok have been in the city protesting for weeks now.  Additional farmers from North of Bangkok attempted to make their way into the city this week.  However, government officials met them outside the city and convinced them to turn back.  How exactly this went down is a topic of debate in Bangkok right now.  Why they turned back is not clear, but the farmers have stated that if they are not paid soon they will return.

This did have a direct impact on my commute on Thursday and Friday as their were thousands of tractors blocking the highway that I take to work in Ayutthaya province.  I was able to detour on much slower secondary roads.

Boycott of Shinawatra Family Businesses
The Shinawatra family (prime minister) is one of Thailand's wealthiest families and protesters are now using the tactic of boycotting any Shinawatra linked businesses and have been leading marches to protest outside these businesses.  I understand the intent of this, but the execution of this plan has sometimes been misguided.  For example, Thailand's largest mobile phone service provider, AIS, was previously owned by the Shinawatras and is being targeted by protesters even though the family sold the company years ago.

A Court Ruling
There was a court ruling at the end of this week that didn't get much international press coverage, but could be significant for how things play out in the coming days and weeks.  After the violence on Tuesday, the courts clarified that the government can not use force to break up non-violent protests.  On the surface this seems good, but it could have unintended consequences.  In fact I think this has the potential to make the situation much more dangerous and unstable.  Why you ask?  The government has been turning to the police to control things so far, but this ruling really limits their ability to rely on the police.  It's unlikely the government will just let the protests continue unchecked.  There are people in the ruling government party with known (or strongly suspected) ties to underground criminal networks (Thai mafia).  Criminal gangs being paid to terrorize protesters becomes a strong possibility with police power being limited and the a government becoming increasingly cornered.

For now life continues as normal for us, but we do have emergency plans in place in case they are needed.

Finally, on a lighter note, here's one way to transport a bamboo ladder.  What could possibly go wrong?

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