from Asia Unbound

Thailand’s Winners and Losers

April 26, 2010

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Photo Courtesy of Reuters/Stringer Thailand

More violence looms in Bangkok – the military reportedly will crack down on protestors camped out in the business district within 48 hours – so it seems like a good time to reflect on the winners and the losers, thus far, in the high-stakes standoff in Thailand.

The Winners:

The rural poor. They have not yet achieved their stated goal of getting Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to quickly call a new election, which a pro-poor party likely would win. Still, the red shirts have demonstrated staying power and organization and, most importantly, they have shown they are a movement that stands for more than simply restoring Thaksin Shinawatra to power – a fact that Bangkok’s elites still do not seem to realize.

Prime Minister Abhisit. He has not cleared the red shirts out of Bangkok, and his supporters don’t understand the movement, but the prime minister has cemented his position as the indispensable actor in his ruling Democrat Party. Abhisit’s urbane style appeals to Bangkokians and foreigners, and he has shown a degree of ruthlessness people did not see in him before. The Democrat Party does not have a better candidate, and if they go to the polls in the near future, Abhisit likely will still be at the top of their ticket.

Brave tourists. You will never get cheaper hotels and tour packages than now for a country that, outside of Bangkok, remains relatively serene.

The Losers:

The monarchy. Behind the scenes, the fear over the king’s eventual demise looms large. The fact that the king has not tried to intervene in this standoff suggests he realizes the red shirts, dismayed by the palace’s support for the army and for Abhisit, might not listen to the king this time. And any greater attention paid to the crown prince hardly throws the monarchy in a flattering light.

The army. In the initial violence on April 10, the Thai army showed that it is horribly ill-prepared for the protesters’ tactics. The military’s intelligence and decision-making appears slow and compromised by leaks, and though it continues to play a pivotal behind the scenes role in politics, it has lost much credibility.

The protest leaders. The rural poor have gained enormously from the protests, but the actual leaders of the demonstrations have not fared so well. By allowing violence to stain the demonstrations, they have lost some of the moral high ground and given the army an excuse to crack down. The protest leaders also have not enunciated a clear platform for what they would do if they ruled Thailand.

Thailand’s Deep South. The Bangkok chaos has distracted all attention from a bloody insurgency in southern Thailand that has killed over 3,000 people in the past ten years.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. His Ahab-like pursuit of Thaksin and his ridiculously over-the-top condemnations of the former prime minister, likening him to Stalin and Hitler, has made Kasit look petty and foolish. Thaksin had many flaws as a prime minister, but a comparison to such mass murderers makes someone watching Kasit doubt any other statements the foreign minister makes.

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