Political Crisis In Thailand

We are a group of journalism students at Ramkhamhaeng University Bangkok. We worked out some articels about the current political situation in Thailnad and want to present them on this blog. Please feel free to give any comments !

SANAM LUANG, 26TH FEBRUARY 2006. We, six journalism students and their professor from a local state university are standing in the middle of the park, 300 meters south of the infamous tourist destination Kao Sarn Road.

Unlike Kao Sarn Road, the park is empty.

Masses of people we expected, carrying banners and yellow t-shirts, calling for the Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to resign. Sanam Luang, the traditional place to gather and show the leaders of Thailand that they are not wanted anymore, has a long history in past uprisings.

In 1992, ten thousands of people gathered here to release their anger and frustration about the military government of General Suchinda. In the 1973 insurgence 77 people were killed and 800 injured at the nearby Democracy Monument when the government put down a demonstration.

Tonight the wide place is empty. The stage where activists yesterday called for Thaksin to step down looks smaller than in the television. The day before the park was crowded with people, now only some die-hard opponents of the prime minister and homeless people sit and sleep at the few spots were still grass grows. The big demonstration was moved to the 5th February.

A bit lost we stand in the center, looking for a sign of the political crisis that keeps the Kingdom of Thailand busy for the last few weeks.
Triggered by the sale of Shin Corps, the telecommunications company owned by Thaksin, to Singapore, more and more people join the “Alliance for Democracy”, led by Sondhi Limtongkul, a former friend and business partner of Thaksin.

The sale of Shin Corp. brought the Shinawatra family 73 billion Baht, around 1.9 billion dollars. Not a single Baht tax was paid. Although not illegal, allegations of nepotism and corruption grow louder. Especially since the law that allowed the deal to be tax-free was passed a few days before by Thaksins Thai Rak Thai (Thai love Thais) party. The prime minister finds himself under more and more pressure; he dissolved the parliament and set the date for a new election for April the 2nd.
The other three major parties in parliament, Democrats, Chat Thai, and MahaChon Party agreed to boycott the election. They want Thaksin to step down.

We decide to leave Sanam Luang when we see a hand waving at us, belonging to a middle-aged man standing in a stall built with anti-Thaksin banners.
“Have a look”, he says in broken English and points to a sign attached to a banner, reading “Overlapping interests. Corruption. Sale of Motherland. Thaksin get out”, and a cartoon of Thaksin, depict with a square head, the horns of a devil and red eyes.

The activist, who says his name is “Small”, wears a black headband, saying: “People for Democracy”. This, he explains, shows that he is a member of a hardliner group, involved in the 1992 uproar and willing to fight.

He holds out with two other men and a woman, they hand us bottles of water, “sorry – no have fridge”, they say when we drink the warm water on this hot, humid evening in the heart of Bangkok.

Corruption, sale out of public property, not holding promises, that’s why they are here Small explains. “He talks in a good way, but bad things follow.” His face is angry.

Quickly they print more headscarves; we have to hold them for two minutes until they are dry. Two for each one of us. Than we pose for a picture with the little group; I wait for the feeling of being used to come, but it doesn’t.

How far would you go in your resistance, we ask them. After the demonstration of the 5th, something has to happen, Small says. A kite is flying above us in the dark sky with fast moving red clouds. And if it turns violent? His face remains uncompromisingly. “Something must happen.”

Short biography of Sondhi and Chamlong

Sondhi Limthongkul

Sondhi Limthongkul is a controversial Thai journalist and the owner of the Phujatkarn Daily, a local Thai newspaper. He was a journalist and television personality, host on MCOT news before his program was suspended. Many people think, the reason for this was his accusations of corruption in the government during his show in September 2005.
In September 2005, after being suspended from MCOT, he was sued by Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra for 500 million Baht (about $12.5 Million), which many view as in order to silence his allegations of rampant corruption in the administration. These acts and other methods of intimidation against the media employed by Thaksin caused Thailand’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders to fall from 59th place to 107th place. The prime minister subsequently withdrew the lawsuits after King Bhumibol Adulyadej advised against such legal action during the King’s annual birthday speech in December.

Currently (as of December 2005), Sondhi hosts his own outdoor talk show about political changes and corruption of the Thai government at Thammasat University and in Lumphini Park with his slogan, “We Fight for the King”. Many Thai people join his show, which doubles as anti-Thaksin rallies, every Friday night, while others accuse him of referring to the King, who is most revered by all Thais, for his own benefit.

His show is broadcasted online via the Manager Online Web site, generating an almost two-fold increase in site visitors, from an average of 80,000 to 150,000 visitors per day.

He also led mass rallies against Thaksin Shinawatra on February 4th and 5th 2006 at the Royal Plaza, in which approximately 100,000 people attended. Calling for the resignation of Thaksin, the rally against the government is the largest held in 12 years.

Chamlong Srimuang

He is a son of an immigrant Chinese fish vendor, CHAMLONG rose in life by dint of discipline and ambition. He worked his way through high school and achieved admission to the Royal Thai Military Academy, graduating in 1960. As a military officer he served in Laos and Vietnam, and at the Armed Forces Supreme Command in Thailand. He studied management abroad. Chosen in 1980 to become executive secretary to Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanond, he stepped down a year later to oppose an impending law that he disapproved of on moral grounds; but he remained with the army and was promoted to major general. In 1985, when constitutional reforms made the governorship of Bangkok an elected post, he resigned and launched his first political campaign.

Drawing on the teachings of an austere sect of Buddhism which he practices, CHAMLONG placed moral issues at the center of his election campaign. No vote buying. No smearing of rivals. No compromising political contributions. He mobilized his followers into a new party which he later named Palang Dharma, or Moral Force. And, against the odds, he won.

As governor, CHAMLONG brought order and cleanliness to Bangkok’s streets, canals, and public markets. He tackled the city’s crippling floods and traffic. He improved life for the city’s poorest. Saying, “A selfish person throws garbage everywhere,” he exhorted Bangkok’s six million citizens to make sacrifices for the common good. He taught them that small human actions, if practiced widely by citizens, can have a huge public impact. Refusing his salary and turning his back on other perquisites of office, CHAMLONG set the example himself. He lived simply, dressed simply, and ate only one vegetarian meal a day. To make a point, he took up a broom and swept the streets.

CHAMLONG swept his government clean too. Less corruption meant more money for city services. So did vigorous tax collection. “I suggest sincerity and hard work,” he said, and practiced what he preached. This astonished his constituents who re-elected him in a landslide victory in 1990.

In March 1992 CHAMLONG’s Palang Dharma party won 32 of Bangkok’s 35 seats in Thailand’s parliament, making him a national force. When, a few months later, the country’s chief military commander assumed the office of prime minister, 57-year-old CHAMLONG pitted his moral authority against the brute strength of the state. With a stunning act of non-violent protest that prompted his arrest, he galvanized the public to reject the unelected leader. Thailand’s King intervened personally to effect his release and to foster a peaceful resolution to the crisis favoring greater democracy for Thailand.

In electing CHAMLONG SRIMUANG to receive the 1992 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his exemplary governorship of Bangkok and his fervent insistence that elections are the sole legitimate path to political power in Thailand.

In the late 1990s Chamlong invited Thaksin into Thailand’s political arena and later Thaksin replaced him as the leader of the Palang Dharma party. However it wasn’t the right time for the Palang Dharma party to gain its success because the powerful parties were Chart Thai, Democrat and Kwamwungmai. So Thaksin decided to step out of the politic arena.

Ten years ago, because of the economic crisis and Thai people were looking for strong political leader. Now Thaksin thought it would be the right time to come back. But this time it seemed that he could be the one who safe the country according to his most successful business corporation in Thailand. (Telecommunication), it made people believe that he might be able to organize the country as good as his own company. He established his political party called Thai Rak Thai.

Since that time he had won two elections. People were pleased by the first Thai Rak Thai administration but when Thaksin won 377 seats in the 2005 elections and this victory has gained his self confidence too much Later on, some Thais could see that he never listened to any suggestion from anyone in order to run the country.

At the same time Chamlong, who was one of Thaksin’s best alliance, tried to cool Thaksin down from being politically stubborn. Still, it didn’t work. Until Sondhi started with his campaign against Thaksin, Chanlong decided to join the movement which attracts many political leaders, academics, students, activists and artists as well.

Chamlong’s reason to join the demonstration against Thaksin is because he feels guilty. He thinks, without him having brought Thaksin into the politics, this political situation wouldn’t have occurred. So he must respond to it.

According to his well known reputation of being trustable and honest, and the trend of fighting for freedom of media, urged by Sondhi after his TV program was suspended, both of them became the main figures in this demonstration.

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