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Misc.

Politics in Thailand: battle for the parliament

WSJ: “Rival Thai Parties Vie to Form Government

Thailand’s rival political parties are racing to form the country’s next government this week, with the opposition Democrat Party claiming it has won the support of enough legislators to form a ruling coalition — a move its leaders say could ease the political turmoil that has mounted in recent months.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said Saturday his party had won the support of as many as 250 members of parliament, more than the 224 seats required to have a majority in the Thai legislature. Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks said Sunday the Democrats had recruited 260 lawmakers for a new coalition.

If the Democrats succeed in creating and maintaining a new coalition with a majority of seats, 44-year-old Mr. Abhisit is likely to be chosen as Thailand’s next prime minister.

However, it’s not certain Mr. Abhisit and the Democrats can deliver this majority. Followers of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra also are trying to form a government, reigniting a battle for control of Thailand, one of Southeast Asia’s largest economies and major production hub for multinationals such as Toyota Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co.

AP: “Thai opposition may take power, army’s aid hinted

Thailand’s main opposition party called for an emergency parliament session Monday to prove its majority and form the next government — a surprising reversal of fortunes that some suggested was engineered by the politically potent military.

Democrat Party Secretary-General Suthep Thuagsuban filed a formal request for convening Parliament to demonstrate it has the support of enough legislators to form the next government and end months of political paralysis.

This Southeast Asian nation has been gripped by political chaos for three months, with protesters seizing the prime minister’s office and overrunning the capital’s two airports for about a week in a bid to topple the government, accusing it of being a proxy of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

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Misc.

StateStats: Analyzing Google search patterns

Now that the airports have re-opened here in Thailand ((The latest news from Bangkok: The revered Thai King — the world’s longest reigning monarch — failed to deliver his annual birthday eve speech on Thursday. There was a huge amount of anticipation regarding his remarks, as he was expected to weigh in on the ongoing Bangkok protests. The King, who turned 81 yesterday, was apparently too ill to speak. And yesterday, exiled prime minster Thaksin Shinawatra’s ex-wife returned to the country. For an overview of the situation in Thailand, I suggest this recent AP story: “Travelers leave behind a Thailand still in crisis“)), I wanted to point out an intriguing tool: StateStats.

The site allows you to compare Google search patters for various US states; the terms are also linked with other demographic data ((But take the demographic info with a grain of salt. From the site: “Be careful drawing conclusions from this data. For example, the fact that walmart shows a moderate correlation with “Obesity” does not imply that people who search for ‘walmart’ are obese! It only means that states with a high obesity rate tend to have a high rate of users searching for walmart, and vice versa…”))

Some search terms that caught my eye include:

Thailand
Thailand (popular in Hawaii)
Thai cuisine (big on the west coast)

Food
In searching for Southern food, I noticed that fried chicken is a popular search term in the south, as is pecan pie. And it’s no surprise to note that South Carolina is the clear winner in searches for grits, shrimp and grits, and Frogmore stew ((Here’s more info on Frogmore Stew.)). On the other hand, vegan is a popular query in Oregon and Vermont.

Media and the Internet
The Wire is a popular search term in Maryland (the show is based in Baltimore), while Sopranos is big in New Jersey, New York, and surrounding states. Various Web/tech-related search terms, meanwhile, are especially popular in the West and in New York. Twitter is big in the Pacific region, in New England, and in Texas (though the more generic microblogging is huge in California, as is WordPress); Flickr is big on the West coast and in New York; and Tumblr is especially popular in New York.

Misc.
Other terms worth a look: Soccer is a popular term in the Northeast, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington, while Real Madrid and Barcelona are both popular terms in California and Virginia. And in other long-running football (soccer) derbies, Virginia is also prominent: check out River Plate and Boca Juniors.

Dogs are big in the south and mid-west, while cats are extremely popular in New Hampshire. Saab is also a popular term in New England, while Volvo is a popular query on both coasts.

Searches for some of the Andean nations reflect an interesting pattern: Bolivia is a popular term in Virginia and Florida, while Ecuador is big in New York and the mid-Atlantic. (New York is home to many Ecuadorian immigrants.)

And, last but not least, Newley (pictured above) is a popular search term in New York, Texas, and California. ((I suspect that these are not searches for newley.com, but for Anthony Newley. Or perhaps they’re misspellings of the adverb newly.))

(StateStats link via Kottke, where you can find a list of other revealing queries.)

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Misc.

Bangkok airport to reopen

Here’s the latest news from Bangkok:

— Yesterday (Tues.) a court ruled that Thailand’s governing party must disband. The prime minister has now been forced from office. (Demonstrators had said they wouldn’t leave the airport until the PM quits.)

— Anti-government protesters announced yesterday that they’ll cease their protests at the international airport today (Wed.). (Demonstrations at the domestic airport, Don Mueang, continue.)

— Local media reports says flights will resume at Bangkok’s international airport as early as today, though it’s unclear when normal operations will resume. Some 300,000 foreign travelers are still stranded here.

Following are some media reports with more info:

Nation: “THAI resumes flights at Suvarnabhumi

Thai Airways International is flying six special flights from Suvarnabhumi on Wednesday, the first since the airport was shut down on November 25.

AP: “Thai airports reopening after PM ousted by court

Victorious anti-government protesters lifted their siege of Bangkok’s two airports Wednesday while leaders of the ousted government named a caretaker prime minister to lead the politically chaotic kingdom.

The country’s immediate crisis, which virtually severed Thailand’s air links to the outside world for a week, appeared to be over and the People’s Alliance for Democracy said it was ending six months of daily anti-government protests. But the alliance warned it would be on the streets again if a new government tried to return to its past policies.

“The partial opening can be as soon as today,” said Serirat Prasutanond, acting president for Airports of Thailand Pcl, the operator. “It will likely be outbound flights from Thai Airways because they have aircraft parked here.”

Nation: “Suvarnabhumi to reopen in 1-2 weeks

Airports of Thailand Plc expects to reopen Suvarnabhumi Airport in 1 week at the earliest and 2 weeks at the latest, said the company’s acting president Serirat Prasutanond.

Other stories:

AFP: “Well-heeled tourists flee Thailand on private jets

As most grumbling holiday-makers wait frustrated in hotels after airport-based protests stranded them in Thailand, the wealthy are simply slipping out of the “Land of Smiles” by private jets.

Charter airline companies are seeing their bookings soar despite the enormous cost, after demonstrators seized Bangkok’s main Suvarnabhumi international airport and the smaller domestic hub Don Mueang last week.

Protesters began clearing out of the airport on Wednesday after the premier was forced from office by a court, but it will take weeks to clear the backlog of an estimated 350,000 people who missed flights.

For some perspective on what the protests mean for Thailand’s future, check out this WSJ story:

Thailand Protests End as Prime Minister Is Ousted

Antigovernment protesters promised to end a crippling weeklong siege of Thailand’s main airports after a court ruling forced Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to step down and disbanded his government’s key parties for electoral fraud.

The pledge to lift the airport blockades comes as a relief for the more than 300,000 desperate international travelers stranded in Thailand, which has suffered severe damage to its economy and its reputation as a global tourist destination.

But the political stalemate that has paralyzed the Southeast Asian country of 65 million for months is no closer to resolution — a troubling omen for it as well as some other developing countries around the world.

Thailand’s fundamental problem — mirrored to differing degrees in China, India and other emerging economies — is a seemingly unbridgeable divide between relatively well-off urbanites, including many of the protesters at Bangkok’s airports, and millions of poorer rural citizens who have long felt left out of the country’s power structure.

And this Economist story includes some details on the political landscape and what may come next:

Ousting the prime minister“:

In the end it was Thailand’s Constitutional Court that sent the prime minister packing. Somchai Wongsawat resigned on Tuesday December 2nd after his party and two others were dissolved for electoral fraud. But the noose around his neck was the week-long seizure of Bangkok’s two airports by opposition protesters, who have plunged the capital into chaos and sown fear of wider unrest. They may leave now, allowing Bangkok’s airport to resume flights in time for a busy tourist season, and to start clearing a backlog of over 300,000 stranded foreign tourists. But the political upheaval is not over, and damage to Thailand’s battered economy and international reputation may well continue.

(All emphasis mine.)

For ongoing news, check out:
The Nation
The Bangkok Post
Bangkok Pundit
2Bangkok

And finally, newley.com has been receiving a lot of traffic over the last week as folks search for updates on the airport closure. A reminder: if you’d like to receive updates when I post here, you can subscribe to my RSS feed. In addition, I’ve been posting shorter snippets on Twitter here.

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Misc.

The scene at Thailand’s U-Tapao airport: my AFP story

Bangkok’s international airport remains closed today, and it’s unclear when flights will resume. Yesterday I visited U-Tapao airport, about two hours southeast of Bangkok, where some international flights have been arriving and landing. Here’s an AFP story I wrote about the scene there:

AFP/Bangkok Post: “At U-Tapao: ‘They have killed tourism’

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Misc.

Bangkok airport closure: Friday update

Here are the latest developments from Bangkok:

— Anti-government protesters continue to occupy Bangkok’s international airport. They have now also forced the closure of Bangkok’s domestic airport.

Thousands of passengers are still stranded here in the city, though they’ve been moved from the airport to various hotels. (Some tourists have reportedly been able to leave Thailand by traveling over-land from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the airport has a wide range of international flights.)

— Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has declared a state of emergency, which would allow the government to dislodge protesters from the airports. However, the government seems reluctant to clear out the demonstrators for fear of bloody clashes.

— Rumors were flying here in Bangkok last night that there would be a military coup. That hasn’t happened. But the possibility cannot be dismissed.

Following are links to media coverage:

Reuters: “Q+A-Thailand’s intractable political crisis

A snip:

HOW DOES AIRPORT SIEGE HELP PAD’S CAUSE?

The chaos is costing the PAD public support, especially as tourism, which employs 1.8 million people, will suffer badly.

But its ultimate goal is to make Bangkok ungovernable and trigger a putsch against a government they say is a pawn of ousted and exiled leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Under an interim military government, the PAD would then have more chance of advancing its “new politics” agenda to ensure a parliament stuffed with appointed grandees.

Some of the PAD’s plans are codenamed “Hiroshima” and “Nagasaki”, and their ideologues have been quoted on the need for political assassinations.

BBC: “Thailand teeters on the brink

The occupation of Thailand’s main international airport is the boldest and riskiest move yet by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, after a string of similar stunts over the past four months.

It has certainly done immense damage to the vital tourist industry, and even many sympathetic Thais will feel that this militant, anti-government movement has gone too far in its quest to unseat the government.

But could this be the shock that finally breaks the deadlock which has paralyzed the country for most of this year?

It has certainly shocked army commander Anupong Paochinda into playing a hand that, while even-handed on the surface – it calls for both new elections and for a PAD withdrawal – is being viewed by many in the government camp as little short of a silent coup.

The reason is complex, but such is the mistrust among different factions in Thailand now they tend to assume the worst of each other.

WSJ: “Thai Protesters Overtake Second Bangkok Airport

Antigovernment protesters swarmed Bangkok’s second major airport and Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat declared a state of emergency at both facilities as a monthslong political crisis appeared headed for a climax.

The developments — coming a day after thousands of protesters took over the country’s main international airport — intensified speculation Thailand could be heading for another military coup.

Late Thursday, there was also some conjecture that Mr. Somchai, who said protesters were “holding the country hostage,” might order Thailand’s police — and possibly not the army — to clear them from the airport terminals. The emergency declaration allows him to prohibit gatherings.

In a nationally televised address, Mr. Somchai said “I do not have any intention to hurt any members of the public,” though it wasn’t clear how demonstrators who have vowed to stay put until Mr. Somchai quits could be removed without force. The premier said the navy and air force will assist police in clearing the airports.

A government spokesman later said police had been instructed to remove the protesters “as soon as possible” but in “a peaceful manner,” according to the Associated Press. The same spokesman urged the country’s army units to stay in their barracks.

IHT/NYT: “Thai Chief Permits Evicting Protesters

Snip from the end of the story:

…The seizure of Bangkok’s airports is radical even by the standards of Thailand’s tempestuous political past.

Despite frequent military coups and changes of government in past decades, the day-to-day operation of Thailand’s bureaucracy had been largely unaffected until now. The airports functioned with little interruption during a military coup in 2006, and, unlike many of its neighbors, Thailand has maintained reliable service in crucial areas like electricity and health care despite political turmoil.

But with the closing of the airports and the occupation of the prime minister’s office since August, politics is now directly interfering with many facets of life in Thailand. The airport disruption alone has caused havoc in Thailand’s tourism industry and disrupted Southeast Asian commerce.

“The protesters have basically closed down the country,” said Ruth Banomyong, an associate professor at Thammasat Business School, Thammasat University, who is one of the region’s leading specialists in logistics.

“Thailand was never considered as a very risky country,” he said. “I don’t think companies would have prepared for this.”

The Nation: “Capital increasingly tense as coup rumours spread

The situation in the capital was extremely tense yesterday as coup rumours prompted reaction from anti-government protesters and their rivals. Both camps mobilised their supporters for street fighting, while government and business offices suggested their staff get out early.

Newspaper offices were flooded with phone calls inquiring or giving “tips” about an imminent coup. A source claimed Army chief Anupong Paochinda had a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to exchange ultimatums.

For ongoing links to news coverage, check out:
— Bangkok Pundit (the post Coup speculation: Live Blog may be of interest)
The Nation Newspaper
Bangkok Post newspaper
2Bangkok