The ongoing political protests in Thailand and the hasty cancellation of the 14th Asean economic summit that saw 14 heads of state hurriedly evacuated from a Pattaya hotel rooftop by helicopter will have a long-lasting affect on Thailand.
After only four months in office Prime Minister Abhisit Veijajiva already looks like a dead man walking following this latest fiasco, appearing to have the support of neither the Thailand military or the Thailand police.
The true test of Mr Abhisit’s leadership and whether his Democrat Party government is really in charge of Thailand will come in the next few days.
After repeatedly promising the heads of Asean and the six dialogue countries – Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, South Korea and India – together with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the chiefs of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organisation (WTO) that their safety at the Pattaya summit was assured, Mr Abhisit and Thailand as a nation has been publicly humiliated on the world stage.
While the rights of the red-shirted pro-democracy supporters to protest is not disputed, the lack of support the government received from the Thailand military and the Royal Thai Police force in protecting the group of visiting dignitaries can only raise the question of who is really running the country.
According to a report in the Bangkok Post, the prime minister and senior cabinet members met late yesterday to consider legal measures against United Front for Democracy (UDD) leaders.
An unnamed government source said security authorities planned to arrest UDD leaders, and possibly charge them with national unrest and treason.
The authorities would gather evidence that covered the leaders’ speeches and activities to back the allegations that they intended to overthrow the government and warrants for their arrests would be sought from the court, the Bangkok Post said.
While it is understandable that the great loss of face suffered by Thailand as a whole on the international stage should prompt this sort of reaction, it is reasonable to also expect the same wrath should be felt by the heads of the Thai military and Thai police, as well as by Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban who was charged with managing the security arrangements for the summit.
Just as the Thai police and Thai military proved to be an impotent force in supporting the previous Thai government when tens of thousands of People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters took control of both Bangkok airports as well as those in Phuket, Hat Yai and Krabi stranding hundreds of thousands of tourists they have proven to be just as ineffective this time.
While the Thai military continuously deny any plans to mount a coup d’état similar to that which ousted fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September 2006, their lack of support for the incumbent government means the prospect of military intervention in order to bring peace to Thailand and protect the Thai royal institution is far from fanciful.
If Prime Minister Abhisit is unable to get the Thai military and Thai police to carry out their duties the prospect further bloodshed on the street of Bangkok and throughout Thailand appears inevitable.
For those in the Thai tourism industry these latest protests harbor no good news and already industry representatives are predicting losses to to the tourism industry this year alone of more than Bt200 million (about $US5.6 million).
The inability of the Thai government to run the 14th Asean summit in Pattaya safely and securely has prompted Association of Thai Travel Agents chairman Apichart Sankary to say “the government should not hope to host major international events again.”
The tourism industry in Thailand has grown from 630,000 foreign tourists in 1970 to 14.6 million in 2007.
The industry accounts for more than 11 per cent of the Thai economy and the Tourism Authority of Thailand was forecasting 15.5 million foreign tourists generating revenue of around $US16 billion prior to the PAD protests that crippled the country last year.
© John Le Fevre, 2009
“Yellow Shirts”, International affairs, PAD, Peoples Alliance for Democracy, Thailand, Thailand politics, Thailand riots, Thailand tourism, Thailand Tourism Authority, Thailand travel, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Tourism/travel industry, Thailand current events, Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thaksin Shinawatra, Democrat Party, “Red-shirts”, Thailand police, General Anupong Paojinda, Thai military
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