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Thailand, The Land of Smiles also frowns
 

Thailand, The Land of Smiles also frowns

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Article about the December 2008 political crisis in Thailand, which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

Article about the December 2008 political crisis in Thailand, which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

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    Thailand, The Land of Smiles also frowns Thailand, The Land of Smiles also frowns Document Transcript

    • Thailand: The Land of Smiles also frowns In Thailand people smile all the time… except, maybe, when you ask too much about a product in a shop, and finally don’t buy it. But, at the end of 2008, this warm country known by its tiger balm salesmen and delicious sticky rice and mango, had to go through days of political turmoil which affected its tourism industry, economy, and reputation. Anita Zaror © January 2009 After rushing to the airport, dealing with overweight issues, and going through many security controls, I had the most pleasant flight from Delhi to Bangkok. I was already feeling on holidays by just thinking about totally disconnecting myself from everything for a couple of days. I was planning on going to Rambuttri Street to eat grilled fish and drink Singha beer, walking around the lively night markets in the city, and getting Thai massages from the expert hands of a Thai woman that doesn’t speak English, but only replies “kaaa” with a perpetual smile on her face. And so I did. A few days later, I decided I was already relaxed enough to reconnect to the world again. So I woke up, made myself a jasmine green tea, and turned on the TV to watch the news. Oh, my God! CNN, BBC, CNBC, and the local TV stations, they were all showing Mumbai and Bangkok on the news that day. India’s largest city and financial capital was suffering from terrorist attacks! It was actually hard to believe that the striking images of gunmen, wounded people, and total chaos surrounding the Oberoi and Taj hotels, in Mumbai, were not a Bollywood movie, but events of real life. The other big news was taking 1/4 This article is protected by an Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license. You are free to share –copy, distribute and transmit- the work under the following conditions: you must attribute the work to: the Chilean Journalist, Anita Zaror; you may not use this work for commercial purposes; you may not alter, transform, or build upon this work. If you wish you publish this article, please contact the author at azp@mi.cl. Photographs are available in high resolution.
    • place a lot closer to where I was: in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, where I had landed just a couple of days before. My mail inbox and Facebook wall were loaded of messages from worried friends and family, who wanted to know where I was, and if I was doing well. The problem in Mumbai was, of course, too far to affect me more than psychologically, and the truth is that, despite the protests in Bangkok’s airport, life in Thailand’s capital continued as normal and peaceful as ever; children kept on going to school, parents kept on going to work, and cunning men still promoted body-to-body massage and offered sex DVDs to farangs (“foreigners”), at Sala Daeng’s flashy Patpong Street. Pornchai, a 30 year-old Thai engineer, with an MBA from Euromed, France, currently works for an IT company in Bangkok. Everyday, after work, he religiously went with his yellow t-shirt –the King’s colour- to protest at Suvarnabhumi airport. “It’s necessary. He has to leave,” he claimed, referring to the Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat. “There’s just too much corruption in the government,” he insisted, talking about politicians of the People Power Party (PPP) who are said to have bought themselves into power. Pornchai was only one of the thousands of ordinary people –with ordinary jobs and lives- from the conservative anti- government group, People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), who gathered everyday at Suvarnabhumi International and Don Muang Domestic airports, with banners saying things like: “Put and end to the puppet Parliament”, “Traitor to the Motherland”, or “Say no to corruption”. Altogether, 2008 was a particularly hectic year for Thailand’s politics. Street demonstrations from PAD against the government started in May 2008, and they occupied the Prime Minister's office, in August. At the beginning of September, PM Samak Sundaravej was forced to resign after making paid appearances on a TV cooking show, during his first two months in office. Somchai Wongsawat was elected Thailand’s new PM on September 17th, when he won the parliamentary vote by a considerable margin. And, although one of the first things he did was calling Thailand for national reconciliation, the PAD rejected him for being the brother-in-law of PAD’s former enemy and populist Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in September 2006 through a military coup, and currently in exile in the UK. 2/4 This article is protected by an Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license. You are free to share –copy, distribute and transmit- the work under the following conditions: you must attribute the work to: the Chilean Journalist, Anita Zaror; you may not use this work for commercial purposes; you may not alter, transform, or build upon this work. If you wish you publish this article, please contact the author at azp@mi.cl. Photographs are available in high resolution.
    • PAD’s occupation of Thailand’s two most important airports, last December, was a desperate measure to demand Somchai’s resignation, whose government they accused of being Thaksin’s puppet. Thousands of tourists were stranded, since authorities had to cancel all incoming and outgoing flights. In the meantime, embassies were sending updated information via mail to foreigners, and suggested to stay away from mass gatherings, for security reasons. There was uncertainty in the air, except for the fact that, for every day that Suvarnabhumi was closed, the airport –which received around 60,000 tourists a day- would have a 50 million baht loss ($1.4 million) in income, according to airport authorities’ estimation. “When will these protests end?,” I asked Esat, a Politics, Economics and International Business graduate from Turkey, who has been living in Bangkok for two years. “Probably on the King’s birthday [December 5th], because people will leave the airports and go to show him their respect,” he said. King Phumiphon Adunyadet has been on the throne since 1946, making his 62 year reigning monarchy the longest in the world. And Thai people love their King. His photograph is everywhere, from the main road that leads to the backpackers’ hangout place, Khao San Road, to the small shops, hotels and big shopping malls. It is illegal to step on top of money in Thailand, because the King’s face is printed on it. And so on. But the conflict was solved three days earlier than expected, when Thailand's Constitutional Court dissolved the ruling PPP, and banned PM Somchai Wongsawat from politics for five years, after finding the party guilty of electoral fraud. The Democrat Party then formed a new coalition government, and Abhisit Vejjajiva became the new Prime Minister. Thailand had reasons to celebrate. On December 5th, Bangkok was lit up with colourful fireworks until late night, since Thais were celebrating the King’s birthday and, many of them, Somchai’s resignation too. But despite the capital being beautifully decorated with a festive feeling of Christmas, the entire story had more of a bitter-sweet taste. Thailand ended 2008 with more frowns than smiles: Low public spending, a tourism industry which lost significant amount of revenue, and doubtful foreign 3/4 This article is protected by an Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license. You are free to share –copy, distribute and transmit- the work under the following conditions: you must attribute the work to: the Chilean Journalist, Anita Zaror; you may not use this work for commercial purposes; you may not alter, transform, or build upon this work. If you wish you publish this article, please contact the author at azp@mi.cl. Photographs are available in high resolution.
    • investors that are not sure of doing business in such a politically unstable country, are just some of the consequences of this turmoil. As for me, I took my plane back to Delhi carrying great memories of Bangkok, although they were quickly shadowed by hearing about the consequences of the Mumbai attacks. But that is part of a whole different story… Photo captions (in order of appearance): 1. Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles”, which doesn’t mean that its over 65 million inhabitants smile all the time, although this tourism marketing slogan suits well a big portion of their friendly and joyful citizens. 2. Two school girls walking around the malls at Siam BTS skytrain station, wearing a yellow t-shirt, like all of the PAD protesters who gathered at Bangkok’s international and national airports to demand the Prime Minister’s resignation. 3. Sticky rice and mango is a typical Thai dessert made from slices of fresh mango, and sweet rice with a firm texture, topped with coconut cream. It is sold in many restaurants, shopping courts, and even on the street. 4. After the political chaos in Thailand, Suvarnabhumi International Airport displayed standees inviting the few tourists who walked around, to come back to Bangkok again. 4/4 This article is protected by an Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license. You are free to share –copy, distribute and transmit- the work under the following conditions: you must attribute the work to: the Chilean Journalist, Anita Zaror; you may not use this work for commercial purposes; you may not alter, transform, or build upon this work. If you wish you publish this article, please contact the author at azp@mi.cl. Photographs are available in high resolution.