Posts Tagged ‘Thailand politics’

Shutdown Shutdown Bangkok

February 23, 2014

I came to Bangkok for my annual medical checkup, despite the deadly confrontations last Tuesday. On Thursday afternoon, I inadvertently shopped my way through two of the Shutdown Bangkok, Restart Thailand protest sites. I’m told that the demonstrations really get going during the evening hours, spending the daytime in a holding pattern. By 4:30pm at a protest site in the midst of Bangkok’s Chitlom shopping mall cluster, the stage was busy with speakers, singers and a rock band, ignored by all but a handful of the hundreds of protestors in the tent village under tall temporary roofs. The stage scenes were broadcast around the protest sites, extending to the dozens of vendors selling tee-shirts, bags, whistles, even tents, a veritable street fair in the middle of what would normally be some of Bangkok’s busiest streets.

Walking through the protest area, a profound sense of sadness swept over me. It’s not only that the opposition’s proposals to break the power of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and oust his sister and proxy Yingluck Shinawatra, are predicated on thwarting democracy, since the opposition can’t win at the ballot box, and that neither side seems ready to respond to what other observers say is the end of Thais’ willingness to tolerate rule by their purported betters.

I hoped that Tuesday’s deadly violence, including the explosion of a grenade in front of a police line and gunfire from both sides that left five dead and dozens injured, would have woken up leadership. I hoped they’d ask themselves whether the nation shown on that stunning BBC footage of the grenade explosion was Thailand they wanted to live in and the one they want the world to see. My old Thai hand friends assured me that the leaders don’t care about such things. Friday night’s explosion at a protest site, injuring six, and Saturday’s night’s attack on an anti-government rally in eastern Thailand indicate my friends understand the situation better than I do.

What made me sad at the Bangkok protest sites was the unseriousness of the scene, despite the specter of violence and the high stakes. Reforming Thailand’s basic governing institutions is difficult and serious work and it won’t get done sitting in a tent in the middle of a boulevard or selling key chains any more than it will by throwing grenades. Shutdown Bangkok is no way to run a revolution.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Bangkok bounces back

January 1, 2011

Bulletin: My heartfelt thanks to all of you who voted for Twenty reasons Barack Obama stinks in the 2010 Prize in Politics. Your support made the piece the top vote-getter in the competition, helping it to advance to the final round. Unfortunately, the judges didn’t select Twenty reasons Barack Obama stinks as one of the three prize winners. In this case, I’ll defer to the wisdom of crowds.

Let me also take this moment to wish you and your loved ones a happy new year. I hope you find all you seek and more in 2011. And I hope you’ll keep stopping by here to read and comment on what I have to say.

Walking through CentralWorld Mall in Bangkok, you’d never suspect that the place had been torched in May by anti-government protests. There are few hints left of the thousands of the demonstrators that occupied the city’s main shopping district for two months and the crackdown that cleared them, events that left at least 90 people dead.

By every measure, Bangkok has returned to normal. Despite two months of virtual urban warfare, tourist arrivals will top last year’s total by a wide margin. Yet all is not well in Thailand. As I reported for Asia Times from the Thai capital, the rift between supporters and opponents of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, dating back to the 2006 coup that deposed him, and the underlying social and economic issues haven’t healed. With elections due within a year, Thailand may well see more fireworks.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

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