Thailand Political Landscape 2014
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Thailand's Political Landscape and it's affect on TEFL Course Training: 2014

TEXT-AND-TALK TEFL Courses Guru James Parmelee

By James Parmelee
Thailand TEFL Courses Guru

Thailand's Current Political Landscape

People who are thinking about coming to Thailand want to know what's going on here.

Is it safe? What are the protests all about? Is it dangerous because there has now been a coup?

Well, first of all, it is indeed absolutely safe for foreigners here in the Land of Smiles, assuming, of course, that you don't wish to join in with protestors! The infrastructure is fully open, as are the hearts of the Thai people towards foreign visitors — and those who teach English and other needed subjects especially. Thailand needs you!

As in many other countries, there are the occasional, or at times fairly frequent, military coups, demonstrations or protests here; and although these are taken fairly seriously by the local Thais, it happens often enough, and with so little impact, good or bad, on foreigners, that for us locals it is almost like, *"Well, here we go again!"*

Certainly, it is not for us foreigners, however long we might or might not have been resident here, to take sides in political disputes and differences.

We will, however, attempt here to give you an objective summary of what the current dispute is all about — one reason for doing so being simply because international news services such as BBC or CNN seem to have so little comprehension of the way Thais actually are as individuals or as a nation, or of what lies at the roots of political differences: focusing instead on whether what is going on is "democratic" or not, assuming (falsely, we believe) that if a government has assumed power through a free (and perhap reasonably fair) election, it must by definition be performing 'democratically' — so that any group that opposes it must themselves be 'undemocratic'.

Most here believe, as does this writer, that elections are actually only a part, though surely an important one, in how one might define a democracy.

Indeed, like demonstrations in other countries, the recent unrest here tended to concern perceived dictatorial powers, the evils of corruption, and the educational and economic disparity among groups and regions. A bit of background to Thailand's case is in order. Admittedly, although Thailand has continually be quite safe for foreigners, the two protesting camps could not, in the end, reach reconciliation, and there was indeed some violence. Thus at this stage, there has indeed been a coup — but surely the gentlest and best-guided, and very temporary one, in the whole history of the world!

Here is how everything started in this instance:

In the year 1998, a brilliant media tycoon and Thai baht (if not U.S. dollar) billionaire by the name of Thaksin Shinawatra (TOK-sin CHIN-nah-wat) founded the Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) political party, which in the year 2001 came first in a national election, after which — following some apparently inaccurate financial disclosures made by him and ultimately forgiven — Mr. Thaksin was appointed Prime Minister.

Mr. Thaksin became a dedicated and highly creative Prime Minster who initiated many excellent policies to assist the economy, public health care, education, energy, drugs and international relations — and even though indisputably aggrandizing himself and his companies financially by exploiting his position, nonetheless ultimately won two elections by landslide.

Indeed, while politicians of the past (and still, we're afraid in the present), bought votes throughout the country's villages and provinces with small monetary handouts, the brilliant Mr. Thaksin found a way to save a huge amount of expense by using money that was not his own, but the government's, to purchase the huge volume of votes available in the large farming regions of the North and Northeast of Thailand — whom one must acknowledge, had been severely neglected by previous governments for so long. To these voters, predominantly farmers, he made available development funds, low-interest agricultural loans, actual cash grants to rural villages, and many, many other benefits.

It goes without saying, then, that not only did he win this huge block of voters (who to this day adore him), but he also gained complete governmental control over the whole country.

Unfortunately, with almost complete control over the government, he allegedly garnered such vast amounts of income from corrupt activities that many say he actually believed himself to be more important than the beloved Thai monarchy — a stance nearly all who were not farmers of the North or Northeast (and who did not really understand or believe this anyway) found so offensive and intolerable that in the year 2006 he was overthrown by the Thai military while abroad. After that, the military themselves performed the role of government until the election of 2008.

After the coup, Thakin went into exile, where he yet remains, and in the year 2008 was sentenced to two years of prison for abuse of power. Certainly, it is felt by many that were he to return to Thailand with all his wealth, he would have an excellent chance of 'beating' the sentence against him. Yet he does not return, it is said, because so many other charges await him with such irrefutable evidence that he would indeed spend a great number of years incarcerated should he do so.

Nonetheless, for all his faults, Prime Minister Thaksin accomplished a great deal of good for Thailand, to the extent that in the year 2011 his party, now renamed Pheu Thai (meaning On Behalf of the Thais) won a national election — particularly, and predictably, through the votes cast by rural voters still loyal to Thaksin — following which Thaksin's lovely sister, Yingluck, was appointed prime minister.

Thus it has been, nearly everyone believes, that through his sister as a 'proxy', Mr. Thaksin has actually continued to govern Thailand as a convicted felon living in exile! (Imagine, to make an absurd, and, of course, impossible analogy, President Obama fleeing from a criminal conviction and continuing to run the U.S. government through orders issued to Joe Biden from some country without an extradition treaty! This is how a great many Thais view the behavior of Thaksin and Yingluck at this time.)

Recently, then, expensive, and apparently failing, populist policies of the administration in power were felt to be, or were likely to be, draining the government of financial resources, to the extent that rice given the government by farmers who were promised a much greater than market price for their produce could not be paid for it, causing great anger among the farmers — ironically, as they hail from the normally loyal North and Northeast!

Even more seriously, perhaps, Yingluck attempted to pass a multi-year amnesty bill to excempt her brother and many others from criminal penalties, and so bring her brother back home — a move ruled illegal by the Constitutional Court, and one which Yingluck attempted simply to ignore and defy. In the end, after many protests, Yingluck dissolved parliament, but up refused to resign as demanded by the demonstrators.

Thus, enough is enough, then said the demonstrators, who blocked polling areas set up for a new election hastily called by Yingluck, as she knew that with the help of voters from up north her government would just go right back into power.

"Down with the Thaksin regime!" said the demonstrators, who wanted Yingluck to resign, after which they planned to set up a temporary reform committee to rule until at least the worst political types of corruption have been eliminated or at worst minimized.

Now Yingluck is indeed gone, and plans are being methodically laid out to rid Thailand of corruption and rampant vote buying, or at least minimize it, to ensure a truly democratic Thailand in the near future — and not, we believe, just a so-called democracy based on bought-and-paid-for votes from poor people being exploited by the rich.

Thus, in Thai politics there are no totally good people, or any horribly bad people — just those who want to follow democracy in a way that benefits their own interests, and hopefully involves more than just an election.

So come here and observe how things develop for yourself — and realize your dream of teaching English here, in a friendly country that loves teachers, yet at all times wants to do 'the right thing' for the people who are native here, as well.

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