Bangkok protests: Will there be a coup in Thailand?

Mar 13, 2014, 09:22 IST | Darunee Terdtoontaveedej

Recent bloody protests in Bangkok have scaled down but emergency is in place, with some saying that this is merely a lid on unrest, which is still simmering and may erupt again  

Last month actually marked a period of widespread civil unrests. There was a series of protests which unfolds around the world in cities such as Kiev, Caracas and ultimately, Bangkok. Today, with the scaling back of the protests Thailand, is stuck in a limbo with the very difficult task of rebuilding itself. This makes me wonder how the situation in Bangkok will pan out. Will there be bloodshed again in the near future? Will there be a coup? And the questions keep popping up without any reliable answers, as nobody seem to know or to be willing to talk about it. It's a forbidden topic at the dinner table.

Scale ail: Bangkok, THAILAND: Thai anti-government protesters dance. Protests have scaled down but the move is seen as only a temporary reprieve for the kingdom's embattled premier

In order to keep harmony within friends and families, topics such as politics and the role of our revered monarch is often avoided. Some had even made a pact to avoid such issues in conversations to keep their friends. It might be superficial to say that the political divide is a battle between the rich and the poor, the rural and urban population, the educated and uneducated, royalists and government supporters, Bangkok and the rest of the country and so on.

RALLY ALLY: Bangkok, THAILAND: An anti-government protestor gestures during a rally staged outside the United States embassy in Bangkok earlier this month. Twenty-three people -- including four children -- have died in political violence

However, what went on is an accumulation of the clashing layers (perhaps, all of the mentioned above) of Thai politics, which is very apparent yet unspoken. With the country's strict lese majeste law, little can be said officially to provide clues to any form of critical analysis for the sake of the country. Instead, all we have are rumours from various sources. If one is aware of modern Thai history, one would ask, why has there been 11 coup d'etats since 1932, when the revolution which introduced constitutional monarchy had overthrown absolute monarchy? Is Thailand really not ready for democracy, or is something else within the system impeding true democracy? Nobody really knows.

Mike like: Bangkok, THAILAND: Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, known as the 'Singha heiress' and one of Thai anti-government protest leaders, addresses supporters as they gather outside the Royal Thai Police Headquarters during a rally in downtown Bangkok. Pics/AFP 

What made this protest potentially more dangerous than the past ones was the massive use of social media. Social media has now been used as a political tool. Even the princess herself uses social media to show her support for the anti-government protesters, stating that they were merely doing their duty as Thai citizens, "protecting our nation, religion and monarch." Images were uploaded, captioned and sometimes manipulated on the internet by supporters of the different sides of the red-yellow spectrum.

While people were waging wars online, the physical presence of the protest had its impact. Since the major intersections had been occupied as part of the January Bangkok Shutdown by protesters, traffic had become a nightmare. Public transport was packed with people who had given up on driving, and the air was thick with noise pollution. Living near a protest site, I could hear a range of sounds, from whistles, to speeches to the sound of explosions and sirens. However, nothing was as intimidating as having to pass through the protest sites to get to places.

TUK-TUK GO: Tourists like the way to roll in Thailand  

Situated on at least four of the busiest intersections, these sites were heavily guarded with armed, masked men who would set up security checkpoints and order people to delete photographs taken of them, and it would be unwise to resist, since their reputation was very questionable. Security measures grew as these sites had recently been attacked by anonymous attackers. Each site housed a stage, for protest leaders to speak from and occasionally there would be musical performances, sound systems and screens to project speeches from other sites, tents which protesters temporarily called home, food stalls and venders selling protest props, clothes, mobile phone chargers and many other things.

Tension attention: Bangkok, THAILAND: Thai anti-government protesters gather outside the Royal Thai Police Headquarters. Tensions have eased in Thailand’s strife-hit capital after protesters abandoned their attempted “shutdown” of Bangkok

On the stage, leaders spoke against the government with great passion, so much so that they have often fallen into the realms of hate speech, sometimes without even realising it. The content of these speeches often included some very nasty insults and sexist language targeted towards the Prime Minister who is the first female leader of Thailand. Thai feminist groups had turned a blind eye to this harassment, as they are on the other side. It was alarming to see that people seemed to have lost the ability to look at things objectively without any political concerns. Some of those insults included her appearance, the way she spoke, her ability as a mother, her genitalia, her personal life, her simply being a female, which are mostly irrelevant to politics or how she governs the country. Reasons for allowing these insults were explained to me in various forms, which is summarised by the idea that the protesters simply had no respect for the Prime Minister to regard her as a another human being. Now, thankfully, there seems to be some calm but it is difficult to see this as a lasting peace.

Yet, with signs that emergency is going to be lifted, one can only hope this is the beginning of signs that we are going to break out of this vicious political circle.

Time to travel is now
Though the turmoil in Thailand hit the headlines and even now, there is a sense of unease, tourism officials state that the numbers for travellers to the country were still robust. Says Sethaphan Buddhani, director, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) says that, there is a "sense of normality which has returned to the major streets and shopping districts of Bangkok after anti-government demonstrators, the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), decided to scale back their protests as of March 3." According to Buddhani, even the "temporary rally camps at the intersections of Bangkok's shopping and business districts -Ratchaprasong, Pathumwan, Asoke and Silom, have now been vacated leaving traffic to flow as usual." 

Arunyik, Governor of TAT, claims that the heart of Bankok is "normal. Scaling down of the protests means that international visitors as well as local residents can quickly and conveniently get around the city's key shopping, business and entertainment districts as usual, stressing that entertainment and shopping areas were accessible even during the protests. Now, "with political tension lightening over the last couple of weeks, the government will see fit to lift the Emergency Decree." Tourism officials say Bangkok is back in business with media familiarization trips where media representatives were shown that Thailand's recent political demonstrations were concentrated in very small areas of Bangkok. In fact, officials say that travellers savvy with political trends are making the most of now, and are actually benefitting from special fares and packages designed to incentivize travel to Thailand."
Hemal Ashar

Lift kara de
Reports state that authorities are set to lift the emergency in Bangkok very soon. The Thai government had declared a state of emergency amid anti-government protests, almost two months ago. It was a result of the violence and tension that flared since demonstrations against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government began in November last year. The emergency decree gives authorities the power to impose curfews, detain suspects without court permission, censor media and declare parts of the capital off-limits. 

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