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New Asia Foundation survey on Thai political attitudes

2011 03 28 thai politics

Yesterday the Asia Foundation released a new survey on political attitudes in Thailand. The full title is “2010 National Survey of the Thai Electorate: Exploring National Consensus and Color Polarization.”

Here’s the full survey (large PDF file). From the press release:

[The survey] is one of the most rigorous and comprehensive public perception surveys conducted since the tumultuous political events of April-May 2010. The survey explores the depth of color divisions in contemporary Thailand; key topics covered include the state of democracy in Thailand, elections, conflict and security, and options for reconciliation.

And:

The survey results suggest citizens are not as politically divided as politicians, analysts, and the media frequently suggest. In reality, the mainstream Thai population (76%) professed no color attachment to either Yellow or Red movements. The data also reveals that there was considerable internal diversity or factionalism within these movements, with no consensus in citizen understanding of the primary objectives of the Yellow and Red movements.

(Emphasis mine.)

(Graphic: The Asia Foundation.)

Notes from Thai PM Abhisit’s FCCT speech

2011 03 22 abhisit

As promised, here are some quotes from Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s annual Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand speech last night.

But first, a few general observations. This has been been noted many times before, but I just want to reiterate: Abhisit is quite a skillful politician. He is a highly articulate English speaker, making him well-equipped to deal with the foreign media; he stays on message; he remains calm and is not easily provoked; and he is gifted at using humor to take the sting out of difficult questions and engender sympathy with his audience.

In his speech, Abhisit seemed to focus on pocketbook issues: The country’s economy is improving, he said. His administration wants to focus on stability. And the “silent majority” of Thais feel their voices have been drowned out by noisy red shirt demonstrators.

The crowd — journalists, diplomats, members of the business community, etc. — seemed fairly receptive of the speech, and the few times he received serious needling from reporters, the crowd seemed mostly on the PM’s side.

In roughly the order that he touched on these subjects in his speech and in the subsequent Q&A, here are some snippets:

On his future:

“Maybe you’ll be wondering if I’ll be here next year. I’m wondering, too.”

On his tenure:

“The point I’d like to make tonight is that it’s time for Thailand to move forward. We’ve improved so much over the last two years during my tenure, and a few years before that we were in turbulence and (had) political challenges. But at least over the last couple of years, there has been a government focused on moving the country forward.”

On the economy:

“It’s not just about the macroeconomic numbers that you see today,” such as a move from a contraction in the economy to growth. Tourists and export numbers are improving, and “we have been able to keep fiscal and monetary stability despite the scale of the financial crisis that hit the global economy.” The debt to GDP ratio is good, and unemployment is low.

But “the Thai people still deserve more, and despite the fact that we’ve moved on from the economic crisis, Thai people face new challenges like rising prices, and the cost of living is going up.”

“We recognize that the number one problem now is to help people fight high prices.”

On education:

The government is focusing on “free basic education for 15 years, so that families are now comfortable about having their kids in school.”

Questions for voters and the timing of new election (June or July):

“Do you want to move forward with the policies that we have initiated and will build on, or do they want to stay in this cycle of conflict and violence? Do they want a government that will continue to put their interests first, or do they want people who are still tied to one person’s interests and wouldn’t allow the country and the Thai people to move beyond (it)? That’s the choice that will be facing the Thai electorate in the end of June or at the latest the end of July.”

Elections “will be an opportunity for the silent majority to be heard…for the majority of Thais, a lot of them feel their voices have been ignored” while demonstrators have been noisy.

“I hope that by the time next year’s FCCT dinner arrives, I shall be here to report further progress on delivering the people’s policies…”

On his legacy:

“I hope that these last two years…the government (will be seen as having) steered the economy through crisis, allowed the political institutions to work again since they were in paralysis…and most significantly…to create greater security and welfare for the Thai people.”

On the strengthening baht:

“We don’t have a baht problem, we have a dollar problem.” “All regional currencies have appreciated,” as well.

On his citizenship — and football:

“It was never a secret” that he is a British citizen. “I was born in Newcastle,” he said, and he is a Newcastle football supporter. He’s never had “divided loyalties” between the UK and Thailand. “The people who are questioning my nationality are not doing so because they are suspicious of my (citizenship or loyalties), they just want to take me to the ICC.”

“In fact,” he said, “I recall that the former British ambassador was very disappointed to learn that during the World Cup I supported Argentina.”

He also discussed Thailand-Myanmar relations, the Rohingya issue, and tourism in Phuket. But these passages stand out, for me, as being the most memorable.

Thai PM Abhisit’s FCCT dinner tonight

Tonight is the annual prime minister’s dinner with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT). Details on the event are here.

Just as I did last year and the year before, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the evening. Stay tuned…

Bangkok Post : “Snap election ‘just weeks away'”

Today’s Bangkok Post:

Snap election ‘just weeks away’

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has indicated an early House dissolution is likely to be called later this month or early next month to clear the way for the general election, a highly-placed coalition source said.

The premier’s move came as pressure continued to mount against the government, particularly regarding the rising cost of living, falling rice prices and a hike in fuel prices.

A government source said Mr Abhisit had told key figures of the coalition parties that an early House dissolution will probably be called later this month or early next month.

(Emphasis mine.)

7 Red Shirt leaders out on bail

2011 02 22 reds

AP:

Thailand Court Grants Bail for Red Shirt Leaders

A Thai court has granted bail for seven leaders of the antigovernment “Red Shirt” movement detained after mass protests and riots ended in May.

BBC:

Thailand’s red-shirt leaders freed on bail

Seven leaders of Thailand’s “red-shirt” protest movement have been freed on bail after nine months in jail on terrorism charges.

Separately another red-shirt, Surachai Damwattananusorn, has been arrested on charges of insulting the monarchy.

The government has meanwhile extended implementation of the Internal Security Act for another month.

It is trying to contain continuing protests by both the red-shirts and the nationalist “yellow-shirt” protesters.

The decision to release all seven red-shirt leaders and a protest guard was a surprise. At most, two leaders were expected to be freed.

There are also stories from Reuters and Bloomberg.

(Image: BBC.)

One year ago today

— AFP today: “Thai government, army deny coup claims.”

Bangkok Post today: “Suthep brushes aside coup claim.

The Nation today: “Isoc denies coup plot

One year ago today — Jan. 27, 2010 — this was the Bangkok Post‘s front page:

bkk_post_coup_rumors.jpg

No larger point to mention at the moment — political uncertainties obviously remain here in Thailand — but just wanted to note this, for the record.

Bangkok bomb kills 1; Dems win parliamentary by-election

A bomb exploded yesterday at a bus stop near central Bangkok’s Rajaprasong intersection, killing 1 and wounded 10. BBC has more info here.

Here’s an image I snapped about an hour and a half after the explosion. The bus stop is located directly opposite the CentralWorld shopping mall, which was torched on May 19 following the military’s dispersal of red shirt protesters.

The red shirts’ stage was located just a few hundred meters up Rajadamri Rd. Here’s what the intersection looked like last night.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post has this story about yesterday’s parliamentary by-election, which the Democrats won. Previous BP post about the significance of the by-election is here.

I’ll likely be posting more about both of these stories on Twitter.

A visit to Pheu Thai’s red shirt exhibition (guest post at BP)

Below is a guest post that appeared yesterday on the Bangkok Pundit blog, which is part of the Asian Correspondent site. Here is a link to the original post.

By Newley Purnell

The red shirt protests, as we know, came to a dramatic and bloody conclusion on May 19, when security forces dispersed anti-government demonstrators from central Bangkok. Throughout the nine weeks of protests, nearly 90 people were killed. 

But red shirt supporters, it might be surprising to know, are still gathering in Bangkok today — albeit on a much smaller scale.

Yesterday I visited the headquarters of the opposition Pheu Thai party, located in a building along Rama IV road. As tomorrow’s by-election approaches, with a Pheu Thai candidate squaring off against a Democrat rival, I wanted to see what the mood was like. 

In addition, I wanted to catch a glimpse of a red shirt exhibition that has been created to mark the two month anniversary of the crackdown. The exhibit, which runs through tomorrow, is designed to highlight the reds’ grievances with the government. Here is a gallery with 14 images of the exhibit.

Columns on the outside of the building were draped in black, and inside there were political banners, photos of injured and dead protesters, and a mannequin dressed as a red shirt protester aiming a slingshot at a figure dressed as a soldier, armed with a rifle, on a balcony above.

A red shirt supporter, dressed as a soldier in camouflage and carrying a plastic toy rifle, walked around chatting with visitors. And there was music — interspersed with the sounds of gunfire. There was even a smoke machine in operation.

Replica weapons and ammunitions were on display, as were bamboo poles of the type used to construct the Silom barricade. Some walls were even draped in plastic black netting, which brought to mind the fabric that had been stretched across the stage at Rajaprasong.

Red T-shirts bearing exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s face were on sale outside the building. Coffee and cookies were available, and red shirt supporters of all ages — clothed in their signature “Truth Today” gear — ambled about, posing for photos in front of the various presentations. A small boy ran around with a red bandana on his head.

According to a handout, the exhibit is called “Seven Days and Seven Agonies of the Thai people.” Various “zones” reflect “insidious rhetoric and an application of double standards,” while another zone — complete with a sample water dispensing machine said to be sold to villages by the government at an unfair markup — alleges government corruption. 

“We want to tell the truth about the events of 19 May and 10 April,” Natawud Duangnil, who was staffing the exhibition, told me. “Every story has been twisted by the government and the media, which is controlled by the government.”

He said that it was unfair to blame the arson attacks, like the one that occurred at the CentralWorld shopping center, on the red shirts. He argued that the fires there began after soldiers had control of the Rajaprasong area, and that troops wouldn’t allow fire fighters to reach the mall to put out the fire.

I told him that many people with whom I’ve spoken are angry at the red shirts for claiming to be non-violent demonstrators — but then fighting with, or harboring, those with guns.

“Thai society has cracked already,” he said. “If the red shirts had guns — if it’s true — then it’s not right. But look at the pictures of the people who died,” he said, gesturing at the exhibit. “They were unarmed.”

I asked Natawud if he is afraid that the government will close the exhibition. “We don’t care because we have a right to do this as a political party,” he said. “Everyone has rights.”

Some people say that the red shirts don’t really want democracy, I said, and that they’re merely mis-guided mercenaries fighting for Thaksin. “That’s just a story from their media,” he said. “Yes, we’re pro-Thaksin. But we don’t care if he comes back or not.”

What’s next for the red shirt movement? “We’re upset. We’re sad. We’re angry,” he said. “I can’t deny that. Look at the peoples’ faces,” he said, referring to the visitors. “They cry. But in our minds, we don’t want anything more than justice.”

According to this Nation story, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said the exhibition should not bend the truth in order to exacerbate divisions among Thai society. The article also notes that Pheu Thai says they’ll take the exhibition on the road to other provinces.

Meanwhile, a story from NNT/Thailand Public Relations Department says that ambassadors from “Germany, Hungary, China, Cambodia, the Netherlands, the UK, India, Australia, and many others” have visited the exhibit.

NYT on parliamentary by-election and ongoing divisions in Thailand

Today’s New York Times has a story that looks at Sunday’s parliamentary by-election and ongoing tensions here in Thailand:

BANGKOK — In a parliamentary race this weekend that is being seen as a referendum on Bangkok’s recent upheavals, only one of the two leading candidates is campaigning.

The other is in prison, accused of terrorism for his leading role in the so-called red shirt protests, which paralyzed the city center until they were crushed by force in May.

The disparity underlines the divisions that persist in Thailand following a nine-week anti-government demonstration during which nearly 90 people were killed and more than 1,400 injured. Since then a sort of clenched turmoil has prevailed, with a surface-level calm concealing social and political conflict that most analysts say is likely to burst out again in the future.

(Emphasis mine.)

(Via @jonrussell.)

UPDATE: the WSJ also has a story today worth checking out: “Thai Divisions Shift to Voting Booth.”

Thai government extends state of emergency

Here are stories from the AP, VOA, and AFP about the news today.

And here are related pieces from the BBC (“Stark warnings over Thai emergency laws”) and Reuters (“No Thai protests for now”).

More on this soon, I’m sure.

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