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Bangkok Blues

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
May 22, 2012
Foreign Policy

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In the 1990s and early 2000s, Bangkok's Democracy Monument, a towering series of spires looking toward the sky, located on the central avenue in the older part of the city, was a lively area for street life. Outdoor vendors selling phat kii maw and other noodle dishes jostled for business with watermelon and jackfruit sellers while yuppies sat at the cafes and fast-food outlets surrounding the monument. Like the events that inspired the monument itself, which memorializes the end of absolute monarchy in the 1930s, Thailand's political system seemed to be settling down.

From the 1930s to the 1990s, Thailand had essentially been ruled by the armed forces, in alliance with the business elite and the royal family, which still wielded enormous power behind the facade of a constitutional monarchy. In 1992, however, with the Cold War over and a more assertive Bangkok middle class no longer willing to tolerate military rule, massive popular demonstrations ousted the military regime and replaced it with a respected civilian government.

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