The ongoing political protests in Thailand and the hasty cancellation of the 14th Asean Economic Summit yesterday (April 11) that saw 14 heads of state hurriedly evacuated from a Pattaya hotel rooftop by helicopter will have a long-lasting effect 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 Veijajiva’s leadership and whether his Democrat Party government is really in charge of Thailand will come in the next few days.
After repeatedly reassuring 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), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that their safety at the Pattaya summit was assured, Mr Veijajiva and Thailand has been humiliated on the world stage.
Political crisis descends into chaos
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 (RTP) in protecting the visiting dignitaries only raises questions on 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. Warrants for their arrest would be sought from the court, the Bangkok Post said.
While it is understandable that the great loss of face suffered by Thailand on the international stage should prompt this sort of response, it is reasonable to expect the same wrath should be felt by the heads of the Thai military, the RTP, as well as deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban who was charged with managing the security arrangements for the summit.
Thai diplomacy under siege
Just as the Thai police and 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, so too have they proven to be just as ineffective in Pattaya.
While the Thai military continually denies 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 PM Veijajiva is unable to get the Thai military and police to carry out their duties the prospect of further bloodshed on the street of Bangkok and throughout Thailand appears inevitable.
For those in the Thai tourism industry these latest protests harbour no good news and already industry representatives are predicting losses 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 Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) chairman, Apichart Sankary to say, the government should not hope to host major international events again.
The tourism industry in Thailand grew 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 (TAT) was forecasting 15.5 million foreign tourists generating revenue of around $16 billion prior to the PAD protests that crippled the country last year.
Feature photo John Le Fevre
- Monk – I saw Thai army shoot monk and others at Din Daeng
- Bangkok red-shirt rally April 2009 pictorial special (galleries)
He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.
He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.
In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.
Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me
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I am working on a project dealing with the yellow shirt PAD activities around Bangkok in 2009. Was there any yellow shirt sightings at the airport in January or Feb after the massive closure in late 2008?
Any documentation would be helpful.
Ginger. S. MacDonald
None that I am aware of.