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Unrest deals a blow to Thai people

Publication Date : 04-12-2013


The biggest force that has emerged from the month-long civil disobedience movement in Thailand is the youth.

The 20-something youths, complete with their smartphones with dozens of app, are no longer shying away from "irritating" social involvement. In other words, they are no longer detached from everyday reality.

Over the past few weeks, they have done many things - held demonstrations and peace marches under the blazing afternoon sun, chanted slogans for hours and occupied government buildings. They have also tweeted and re-tweeted, and Instagrammed their photographs on Facebook.

The students' movement reached its peak in 1973-76, which led to the overthrow of the Thanom-Praphat dictatorship and paved the way for a more democratic Thailand. The yearning for the same sort of active political engagement from students can be heard among the present group of protesters.
Yingluck Shinawatra has undoubtedly borne the brunt of the movement. Her charm and non-committal comments, which used to be her most potent weapon, have suddenly turned against her. For the past two years, despite being a political novice, she has managed to not only survive but also play high-power poker games. But she made a catastrophic mistake when she underestimated the people's opposition to the amnesty bill.

Enjoying the majority in the House made her confident of getting the bill passed. What has added fuel to the bill fiasco is the Democrat Party claim that her nearly 1-billion-baht (US$31.12 million) frozen bank account is linked to her brother Thaksin Shinawatra.

The impact of the two incidents has not only shattered Yingluck Shinawatra's innocent image, but also hurt the movement of the red shirts and

their affiliated organisations. The red shirts' clash with the anti-government supporters at Ramkhamhaeng University on Saturday night, in which two people were killed and scores injured, has further discredited them. Interestingly, many red-shirt supporters, including businessmen and intellectuals, are conspicuously absent from the political dialogue and debates these days.

The other loser of the political impasse is Thailand's 180-year-old friend, the United States. After all these years, the US still does not know how to deal with Thailand. As the world's foremost "supporter" of democracy, it could only say: "The US firmly believes all parties should work together to resolve differences through peaceful dialogue in ways that strengthen democracy and the rule of law." That may explain why former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij joined the protesters at the US Embassy last week, trying to explain to the US the nature of Thai politics.

The biggest victim of the impasse, however, is Thailand's tourism sector, a pillar industry of the country's economy, and the people, the simple wage earners. Reports say the number of foreign visitors has dropped by 300,000 because of the protests, causing a loss of US$500 million to the country in terms of tourism revenue. The travel advisories issued by 23 countries and regions urging their citizens visiting Thailand to avoid protest sites has come as salt on a wound.

According to Bangkok Post, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has said that if travel advisories reach Level 5 and tourists are banned from visiting Thailand, the number of visitors this year would drop by 8-10 per cent to 25.75 million and tourism revenue will fall by 25 billion baht.

Political impasses always extract a high price from ordinary people.

The author is assistant group editor of The Nation in Thailand.

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