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Monday, 1 January 2007

Excessive Fireworks

Filed under: Thailand — Jan @ 19:44

Every year there’s lots of fireworks on New Year’s Eve everywhere in Thailand. This year (or should I say: last year), a number of people set off a different kind of fireworks as several bombs went off in Bangkok last evening. Subsequently, many countdown events were canceled.

We had a barbecue at our house last night. We didn’t notice anything had happened. I only found out when I saw the front page of today’s paper. I don’t have any more information than what you can see on the international news channels. The government (Thailand now has an interim civilian government appointed by the military) blames the blasts on “people who lost power”, i.e. members of the government that was ousted in the coup. But without any evidence, that sounds like a cheap shot to me.

Everything appears to be calm now. Some countries have issued travel warnings, but I don’t see any reasons to cancel any vacation you may have planned. Martial law is still in effect in the capital, so you should avoid all kinds of demonstrations or political gatherings. You should also avoid traveling to the Deep South (near the border area with Malaysia), as that area has been suffering a lot of violence for quite some time.

Sunday, 24 September 2006

Tourists Scare Off Tanks

Filed under: Thailand — Jan @ 18:02

We drove through Ratchadamnoen avenue this afternoon, where the army headquarters and a lot of important government buildings are located. We saw lots and lots of tourists, most of them locals, but no military hardware on the streets. I don’t know it the tanks were moved, or if they were simply blocked from view by the crowds and trafic. We didn’t stop to have a closer look.

This morning’s newspaper had pictures of the crowds and tanks. It all looked more like a show of military machinery, usually put on on Children’s Day, rather than a coup d’etat.

We did see many small groups of soldiers standing guard at various intersections. But they looked rather at easy–not to say: bored.

While you can argue until you’re blue in the face about democratic principles, most Thais have more pratical views. Better to have peace and prosperity under a non-democratic government, than violence under elected leadership. And violence is what many feared would have happened during the mass demonstrations planned on Sept. 20th, if they hadn’t been pre-empted by the coup the day before. Regardless of what might have been, Thailand hasn’t been much of a genuine democracy all this year. If the coup-leaders follow through on their promises of a civilian caretaker government within weeks and constitutional reform and proper elections within a year, then Thailand has certainly turned the corner on the way back to democracy.

Unless something major happens, I’m going to stop blogging about politics now. After all, I’m a geek and not a lawyer.

Thursday, 21 September 2006

All Calm

Filed under: Thailand — Jan @ 8:46

Everything’s calm here. The military seem very keen to return the country to normalcy as soon as possible. All TV stations were back in the air by noon yesterday.

The reaction from foreign leaders I see on the international news channels is quite different from the reaction here. While the international community is quick to condemn the coup and warn their citizens to stay home, most people here are glad that the political impasse of the past nine months is over. Nobody likes a coup, but the feeling is that it’s a necessary step backwards in order to take two steps forward.

A poll by a reputable newspaper shows that over 80% approve the coup, at least thus far. What’s surprising is that the approval rate is just as high in the countryside as in Bangkok. Most of the ousted prime minister’s supporters were from rural areas due to his populist policies.

While abrogating the constitution isn’t a nice thing to do, fact is that constitutional reform is highly needed. The checks-and-balances system provided for in the 1997 constitution hasn’t been working as well as intended nine years ago. New elections without constitutional reform wouldn’t solve anything in the long term. Yet that’s exactly what the ousted prime minister was pushing for.

If you’ve been making plans to travel to Thailand, there’s no need to throw out your plans for a nice holiday. I would only recommend to stay away from government buildings (particularly those guarded with tanks) and avoid large gatherings. If your final destination is one of the tourist resorts like Pattaya or Phuket, there’s nothing to worry about. Political power in Thailand is entirely centralized in Bangkok. Even here in Nonthaburi, a suburb of Bangkok, I wouldn’t have known that anything had happened if it weren’t for the newspaper and TV.

As far as international travel goes, I think the move to the new airport on September 28th is more likely to cause (minor) disruptions than the political situation.

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Tanks in the Streets

Filed under: Thailand — Jan @ 9:24

The contrast with yesterday’s post couldn’t be greater. As I picked up the Bangkok Post out of my mailbox this morning, the front page had just one headline: “coup d’etat”. The military deposed the prime minister while he’s abroad, dissolved the government, and shut down all TV stations. So far there hasn’t been any violence.

Though unexpected, the coup isn’t a complete surprise. Protesters had been calling on the PM to quit for the past nine months.

So far all this is pretty much a non-event for my family or my business. While I probably won’t be watching HBO tonight, my Internet connection is still working fine. I’ll keep you posted.

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