03 December 2008
Thai Airports Held Hostage
Only hours after I posted this blog on our website the occupation of Bangkok's airports ended.
The PAD got what they wanted today. The Constitutional Court ruled that the three parties that formed the current government were guilty of election fraud and that the current Prime Minister will be banned from holding political office for five years.
The court's decision made PAD's acts of terrorism over the past week completely meaningless. It is likely that the outcome would have been the same with or without the PAD's occupation of two major airports, which cost the nation hundreds of millions of dollars.
Enough is Enough
As this is being written Thailand is in its sixth day of isolation from the rest of the world. A group of people occupy Bangkok's two airports, holding them for ransom in order to accomplish their lofty political ideals.
Who are these people? They are ordinary Thai citizens who believe that their country has been stolen by politicians who are ruthlessly greedy. They believe that injustices at the hands of the wealthy and powerful have been a part of Thai politics for a long, long time and they want to do something to change that. They would not normally consider becoming involved in violence or acts of civil disobedience. From the many photographs appearing in the all of the news media lately, they appear to be mostly middle-aged women, elderly men and children. They see themselves as patriots, not terrorists.
This group came together in the year preceding the toppling of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a military coup. It was indeed unusual to see Thai people involved in street demonstrations. "Don't make waves," might as well be a national motto in a society that frowns on speaking up or standing out.
Thaksin was convicted of corruption in November. He will probably be indicted for more. He began to fall into public disfavor when he sold his multi-billion dollar telecommunications monopoly to a state-owned investment company in Singapore in such a way that he avoided paying taxes on the windfall. The demonstrations began soon thereafter. Thaksin was deposed in a military coup in 2006. He remained in exile until the military turned the country over to an elected government made up primarily of Thaksin's cronies.
The court eventually threw the new Prime Minister, who was admittedly a proxy for Thaksin, out of office for election fraud. He was replaced by Thaksin's brother-in-law, the current Prime Minister.
The demonstrators now occupying the airports came to be know as the Peoples' Alliance for Democracy, or the PAD. In August hey began to demonstrate at Government House, which houses the parliament, senate and Prime Minister's offices. Eventually this became a permanent encampment that blocked access to access to the building completely. The Prime Minister moved the government to an administrative building at Don Muang, the former international airport. The Government House demonstrators did not disband until yesterday, when PAD leaders asked them to join other demonstrators at both airports.
The PAD has enjoyed a great deal of support from highly placed people. Most well-educated Thais and many foreigners saw the PAD as a healthy grass-roots effort to bring about peaceful change. That ended when PAD became a mob and took over the new international airport on the pretext that they wanted to prevent the current Prime Minister from returning from a conference abroad. Instead, he landed in Chiang Mai, where he has stayed ever since.
In what they called their "final battle" at Bangkok's airports the PAD has morphed from a group of tenacious yet peaceful protestors to a criminal mob that is causing the country incalculable damage.
The government does have its supporters. Even though it is widely believed that many in the group demonstrating to support the PM are paid to participate. Most of them also seem to be well-intentioned mainstream people. They flexed their muscles yesterday with a huge rally at Bangkok's city hall.
One newspaper here characterized current events as the "yellow shirts" (the PDA, who dress in a color always identified with the King) and the "red shirts," the supporters of the government. Ordinarily well-respected news media have turned to tabloid journalism and have called this intractable stand-off "the beginnings of civil war" that would result in shooting in the streets.
None of this is not very likely. The fact is, these two groups are small radical factions that do not represent Thai society at all. According to a poll representing a cross- section of Thai people conducted by Assumption University, 76.5 per cent felt very embarrassed about the Thailand's current political turbulence and the negative views of foreigners toward Thailand.65.1 per cent said they would have less pride in their country if the situation turns violent. 92.3 percent believed political problems can be solved by the justice system. 58.4 per cent said they will not take sides in politics.
This has been a very turbulent week for us. We have had many customers stranded here. There are several customers who we can not find at all. There are also many customers who can not travel to Thailand to enjoy their holidays. Airlines are adapting to the problem in a remarkably well-organized fashion.
The national suffering at the hands of a mob of housewives-turned-terrorists holding Bangkok's airports hostage will eventually be resolved, with or without bloodshed. Our fear is that people outside of Thailand will come to believe that there is some kind of epic battle going on here and that one half of Thailand is intent on killing the other half.
Life here in the Big Mango is no different today than it was a year ago. As I went through my daily routine today I asked myself if the taxi driver, the security guards who protect the building where I live, the man who I buy fruit from on the street every morning on the street, the teller I flirt with at the bank, the man who made the pad Thai I had for lunch, and even my staff would be pushed by current events to the point that they would harm someone else because of their political ideals. I have come to the conclusion that such things will never happen. Members of the two groups of extremists may clash and there will probably be deaths. However, they do not represent the majority of Thai people. Thailand will somehow survive and remain wonderful with or without its airports.
Thanks to many of our friends around the world who are concerned enough about us to write. I was particularly encouraged by an email I received today: "Thanks for the reply in these busy times and thanks for the reassurance on the airport situation. I will not be deterred in this trip since I've been waiting for almost 5 years to get there. "
Those of us who wear shirts of pink or blue, stripes or plaids will be glad when this is episode in Thai history comes to an end. Until then, we are dealing with tragedy the only way we can--one hour at a time.
I have received a number of gentle reminders that I have not updated this blog since August. Honestly, I am flattered that anyone reads what I write at all. Several have even suggested that I missed my calling and should have been a columnist. I do not see myself along side greats like James Reston, Hedda Hopper or Herb Caen. On the other hand, I might need a job soon. I promise more about food and hopefully even a happy ending next time.
Thanks for reading.