Sociologist Dr Pasuk Phongpaichit was quoted in the Bangkok Post saying that the gap between the richest and poorest families in Thailand is 13 times, higher than any other country in the ASEAN region, a record I didn’t realise Thailand held. For about four weeks now, the Red Shirts (the disenfranchised poor or The National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in 2006) have been marching from the provinces into Bangkok and are agitating for fresh elections. They’re still gathering strength and they’ve hardened their negotiating stance.
Below are some links for keeping up with what’s happening:
Here’s a good collection of stills, maps and footage of the carnage this past weekend, on Media140, where the death toll has today risen to 23.
@nkoleszar has a great twitter list to watch for Thailand developments.
At least overall it seems armed repressions are in check, with a more solid consensus for non-violence. Both sides seem to have distanced themselves from the weekend’s clashes, with many observers now reporting a deeply divided military, unwilling any longer to take drastic measures to protect its military-installed Abhisit government.
The monarchy’s inability to reign in the situation, as it has successfully done so in previous political turmoils, seems to contribute to significantly diminishing its position. The Economist had a great backgrounder on the monarchy in Dec 2008, A Right Royal Mess (downloadable pdf as you need a subscription to access the archives). Severe lèse-majesté laws ensures that critical dialogue of the monarchy is restricted. So this radical call for monarchy reform by Thailand’s FM Kasit while on his trip to Washington DC for a landmark nuclear summit has surprised all observers (he being a PAD yellow shirt supporter, normally associated with the elites). Needless to say there is little coverage of this bombshell announcement by Kasit in the Thai presses.
Commercial interests are currently taking a hit, especially the crucial tourism industry, which makes up 7 percent of GDP. The SET index dropped 6.5% since the government declared a state of emergency last Wednesday, and more than 40 countries have issued advisories against traveling to Thailand. The protestors have largely kept away from the tourist-populated sites like commercial districts, shopping malls, the sky train. But these are the main hubs for demonstrations, as seen in these maps.