December 11, 2008 · Posted in: Cross Border, i Report Features

Bangkok blues

THE Land of Smiles has been wearing a worried frown in the last few months, and it’s not because it’s starting to feel the economic pinch like the rest of the world. Rather, anti-government protests have plagued Thailand since December last year, after polls saw the return to power of populist former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. At least that’s how the protesters saw it. To be more exact, they said, it was a return to power by proxy, via the ex-prime minister’s allies. Thaksin himself has been on the run abroad after charges of corruption were lodged against him and his wife, whom he divorced recently and who has since returned to Bangkok.

As talks of charter change continue to pollute the air in this season of supposed merry-making, i Report takes a look at a neighboring nation’s own struggles to give the many voices that make a democracy equal space. Written by IPS Asia Regional Director and occasional PCIJ contributor Johanna Son, the Crossborder piece examines what is behind the incessant protests that even saw the recent weeklong takeover of Bangkok’s major airports by anti-government demonstrators, stranding hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors, among them Filipinos (including Son, who could not get a flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, where she is based).

For now, relative calm has returned to Bangkok, and reports reaching here say the protesters’ politician-allies are fast gaining numbers in parliament. But as Son observes, deep schisms in Thai society have now been exposed, indicating that this crisis is far from being over.

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1 Response to Bangkok blues



December 11th, 2008 at 4:46 pm

What happened in Bangkok was a manifestation of the importance of active participation in the political life of a country. It shows that it is not enough to elect a leader, a president or a prime minister, but to support him or her all the way. The sentiments of some Thais about an elite middle-class “overthrowing” a Prime Minister voted by the poor majority may be a valid reaction considering that in a democracy, it is supposed to be the majority which calls the shots. But somehow the same event also shows that democracy is not always a numbers game. Looking at what happened during EDSA I and II, where the people who flocked to that highway in 1986 and 2001 seemed numerous enough to overcrowd a camera shot, still we can say that they were not the “majority” of the Filipinos too. They were but a significant number of active and participative members of the society who cared enough to show their indignation against unworthy leaders. It may be true that the poor majority doesn’t have the means and maybe the guts to show their support for a leader being overthrown, perhaps like what happened to Mr. Estrada who got the highest vote ever in the history of presidential elections, but this only leads us to the reality that there is a great need to educate the people about their political rights and responsibilities. Perhaps the silence of the majority during times like these concretely prove the point that democracy cannot be just a numbers game – that after all they don’t really care what happens after the elections. Democracy is a form of government which need people who actively participate in the politiocal life of the country. Hopefully the people – Thais, Filipinos and other nationalities alike – would show such active participation not only during occasions of overthrowing a leader but also in helping their countrymen in learning the workings of a true democracy.

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