Thailand has again seen a military coup. What does it mean for travelers?
Thaksin Shinawatra served as Thai Prime Minister from 2001 until 2006 when he was ousted by a military coup. The country has seen a period of intense political turmoil over the past decade.
Shinawatra is a populist who draws his political power from the North of the country, from the country’s poor. His rule threatened Thailand’s traditional elites based in Bangkok. Those traditional power structures, in control of the military at the time of Shinawatra’s ouster, struck back. Shinawatra was convicted on corruption charges and fled the country.
When the military handed control of the government back to civilian hands, Shinawatra’s allies were placed back into office. There was a period of relative stability during military rule, but with Shinawatra’s allies back in power the traditionalists took to the streets. That lead to the Bangkok airport shutdown in November 2008.
The two sides are deeply split. The traditionalists also sometimes considered royalists are represented on the streets as the “yellow shirts.” Those favoring populist Shinawatra and his allies demonstrate as the “red shirts.”
The most recently elected leader of Thailand was Thaksin Shinawatra’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. She likely overplayed her hand in November when she introduced an amnesty bill to allow the return of her brother to the country.
She sought early elections to solidify her power base, but the opposition ‘Democrats’ boycotted. They would have lost. The majority of Thais do support her.
At the time there really was discord, and not just in the protest sites. I understand that many Thai Airways executives spent a period of time working from home, they were told not to come in to work if they didn’t have to.
- This has very much been an internal struggle, one which Thais appear embarrassed by in discussions with outsiders. Tourists really haven’t borne the brunt of the conflict at all.
- It’s generally been enough to avoid protest sites and to avoid wearing yellow or red clothing in order to avoid appearing to be a partisan with one side or the other.
Thailand has been the country most prone to coups and they have been generally peaceful. But I am not an expert on Thai politics and I have no inside information about what either side’s next steps are.
With the latest coup, the military went from ensuring security to actually taking charge. Though there’s a curfew in place in Bangkok from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m, you can head to or from the airport with a printed itinerary.
This often aren’t what they seem in Thai politics. There’s a great deal of intrigue, public statements are often at odds with what everyone knows to be going on. There’s a great deal of face-saving as well.
In 2008 Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was forced to resign over having hosted television cooking shows. I don’t think anyone believes that the reason given by the Constitutional Court was in any way related to the actual need to have Samak step down. But it gave him a reason other than lack of confidence of the people to do so.
The best source I’ve found for Thai news in its proper context is Bangkok Pundit.
I suppose right now, all things equal, I’d recommend postponing or avoiding Thailand travel. But that’s not a judgment that the current situation is especially unsafe. There’s not any evidence of that at this point and historically these situations haven’t been especially dangerous for outsiders. But if there’s not a strong compelling reason to be there it’s worth putting that off to a different time I’d think.
That said, my own inclinations are such that I would likely ignore my own advice. As I’ve said before, I am the sort of person who would touch the stove even though my mother told me it was hot. And I like seeing and experiencing things first-hand.
Are you going to be avoiding Thailand during the current crisis?