Categories
Government

Thailand’s Democratic Disorder

Democracy monument in Bangkok, Thailand
Democracy monument in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: David Villa/flickr.

BANGKOK – From Thailand to Turkey to Ukraine, the relationship between ruling majorities and electoral minorities has become combustible – and is threatening to erode the legitimacy of democracy itself. The unfolding crisis in Bangkok – where a political minority has taken to the streets to bring down Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s democratically elected government – is a case in point.

Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party (PTP) won an outright majority in Thailand’s 2011 general election, gaining 265 MPs in the 500-member lower house. But the opposition Democratic Party – which returned 159 MPs, mainly from Bangkok and southern Thailand – has lately been staging protests in the capital. The so-called “People’s Committee for Democratic Reform” – led by former Democratic Party MP Suthep Thaugsuban and supported by the Bangkok-based establishment – has effectively attempted to stage a coup.

The protests began when the government tried to enact amnesty legislation that would have overturned the conviction of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – Yingluck’s brother and the PTP’s founder, who was overthrown by the military in 2006 – on charges of corruption and abuse of power. (It also would have superseded the murder charges brought against the Democratic Party’s leader, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.) But Yingluck’s subsequent attempt to backtrack on the amnesty measure failed to mollify the opposition.

Categories
Elections

Thai Elections – Challenging Times Ahead

Red shirts rally in Thailand
Red, yellow or camouflage? Photo: Clark and Kim Kays/flickr

Thai parties are gearing up for general elections as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is expected to dissolve the House of Representatives shortly. His Democrat Party came to power through a parliamentary vote, after the previous government was toppled. The upcoming elections will now put the government’s mandate to a popular test. So far so good. It is very unlikely though that the five-year-old political crisis will end with the formation of a new government.

Thailand’s deep political divide is driven by the underlying monarchical succession – the first of its kind since 1946. The system on which the Thai society is built is in flux, leaving everyone struggling to be in a better position.

The Democrat Party has possibly gained some popularity among ordinary Thais, but all in all it remains an elite movement rooted in Bangkok’s establishment. Thus there’s a good chance that the Pheu Thai Party – the de facto party of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – receives most votes in the poll.

Categories
Uncategorized

ISN Weekly Theme: Islam in Southeast Asia

Muslim girls walking to school in Indonesia, photo: Shreyans Bhansali/flickr
Muslim girls walking to school in Indonesia, photo: Shreyans Bhansali/flickr

Islam, Islamic politics and religiously motivated violence are usually issues associated with the wider Middle East region or South Asia.

Less visible, yet no less significant is the presence of Islamic politics, tensions and political expression in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

A region marked by immense historical and religious diversity, by painful historical schisms, and in certain cases by an unrivaled dynamism and ability to marry Islam with modernity, Southeast Asia deserves closer inspection and more contextually sensitive analysis.

This week the ISN publishes a Special Report on the issue with a backgrounder on Islam in the region and a case study of the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines.

We have a wealth of further information on the topic in our Digital Library and Current Affairs section- check out:

  • In our Links section, check out the website of the National Bureau of Asian Research which analyzes less visible issues related to Islam and Muslim societies in Asia.
Categories
International Relations Security

What is that A-Bout?

An alleged international weapons trafficker, searched for by Interpol and placed under an international travel ban by the UN, will soon be running free?

What is that about?

Kalashnikov: Photo: melomelo/flickr
Kalashnikov/Photo: melomelo/flickr

On 11 August, a Thai court ruled against extraditing Viktor Bout to the US. The US is accusing Bout of trying to sell weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC, a group that is deliberately targeting Americans assisting the Colombian government in the drug war. (A year ago, ISN Security Watch featured an in-depth analysis on Victor Bout’s unsavory career: see part I and part II).

Yet unlike the US and the EU, Thailand does not consider the FARC a terrorist group – hence, in the eyes of the Thai judge, Bout cannot be extradited for ‘political’ reasons. This is a big slap in the face for US counterterrorism efforts. To capture international terrorists and those supplying them with weapons, the US relies on a strong network of allies – and Thailand has historically been a strong ally of the US.

Categories
Business and Finance

Labor Unions Learning to Globalize

Swiss newspaper reports the Triumph story / www.tagesanzeiger.ch
Swiss newspaper reports the Triumph story www.tagesanzeiger.ch

On Friday 24 July, lingerie maker Triumph confirmed that it will lay off 3,700 workers in Thailand and the Philippines. Triumph International is headquartered in Switzerland and employs 40,000 people worldwide.

Firing staff is not remarkable, you may think, especially during a global economic downturn. However, if it was not for the Swiss labor union Unia, the Triumph story would probably not have made news at all.

Unia, together with the NGO Berne Declaration (BD), helped to organize protests in Bangkok and Manila. Hundreds of people demonstrated in front of the Swiss embassies and voiced complaints against Triumph.

Decades after companies started to spread their activities across national borders, trade unions have learned the business of globalization. Unions have fought globalization long enough. It seems that they are now employing its forces.