Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thailand-- A Bad Vacation Destination This Year. Mali Rules


Headlines all over the world-- from Russia, Spain and the U.K. to Japan, China and Australia-- are talking about 100,000 tourists stranded by Thailand's political unrest. Last week on my travel blog, I told the story about a friend of Roland's who was emigrating to Thailand from Los Angeles and how he was dumped off on Taiwan. He's now made it to Bangkok, via Vietnam, and is happily using free wifi in his new apartment not far from Lumpini Park.

I hope he stays indoors, as violence in beginning to ramp up against anti-govenment demonstrators who have seized both Bangkok's airports and the prime minister's office. The protesters "have vowed to remain at Suvarnabhumi, which is a major international airport, along with the domestic Don Muang airport and the Government House, the country's top administrative center, until Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat steps down.
Thailand's vital tourism sector could lose more than $4 billion over the remainder of the year, officials estimate, and as many as 2 million tourists are expected to cancel plans to visit the "Land of Smiles." The national carrier, Thai Airways, is reportedly losing $14 million a day.

The government Thursday declared a state of emergency at the two airports and threatened to remove the protesters by force. But the next day, Somchai removed the chief of police for failing to move on the demonstrators. By late Friday, police were in position outside both airports, but no violence was reported.

The government has pledged to resolve the crisis peacefully, and the People's Alliance for Democracy has vowed to "fight to the death."

On Bangkok's Khao San Road, a legendary "backpackers' ghetto," concerns over lost luggage and reluctant insurers were rampant Saturday. Travel agencies, Internet cafes and barrooms were abuzz with complaints, mostly lamenting a lack of credible information and limited travel options.

It's uncomfortable and inconvenient for tourists in one of the world's most tourist-friendly and safest exotic destinations. But it's far worse for the Thais, even apart from their fragile economy taking a catastrophic hit. It doesn't look like this standoff is going to end without major deadly violence.

Western news sources have been describing the government as "populist" but it's an illegitimate right-wing kind of populism headed by the brother-in-law of corrupt former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who has fled Justice and is living in a palace in Britain. Talks are getting nowhere. Aside from military intervention-- either a coup or an attack on the protesters-- another way out of the crisis could be a ruling by a constitutional court looking at campaign fraud cases against the government, something we covered, from Thailand a week shy of a year ago. Although the L.A. Times posits that the court could stir up even more problems than it solves.
A ruling against the government and its allies, which would be welcomed by demonstrators who have seized two major airports to press for Somchai's ouster, is likely to provoke counter-protests from his supporters.

Pro-government leaders, who call their movement the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship, suggested at a rally Sunday that the court was conspiring with the opposition by moving up the date for a ruling. They have threatened to drive the opposition from the airports if police fail to do so.

Many Thais, who don't fall into either the yellow-shirted opposition alliance or the red-shirted camp backing Somchai's government, suffer through their country's continued political instability.

For months now, each apparent solution has ushered in a new crisis, and more bloodshed. Grenade attacks on anti-government demonstrators are almost a daily event, and tensions are growing as rival camps threaten to assault each other and rumors of an impending coup spread.


Monday's NY Times is reporting that the demonstrators have effected a change in tactics which focuses more on the airports and less on the prime minister's office. There are approximately 300,000 stranded tourists and Thailand's economy is down by $2-3 billion. Airlines have started flying tourists out of the country through other airports.



At 5:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude! How can you use words like "illegitimate right wing" when talking about the present government? It was voted in democratically by an overwhelming majority of Thai people, more than a year after Taksin went into exile! Its also a bit unfair to say that he "fled Justice". There is no way he would have gotten a fair and just hearing in a legal system owned and controlled by the same Bangkok Elite who stirred up the very coup that deposed him. Furthermore, for your information, Taksin is not living in "a palace in Britain" he has been denied a visa by Britain and is floating around somewhere in Asia.

At 5:44 AM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Thanks for the update on Thaksin's status. After living in Britain this summer he was expelled, visa revoked this month, after he was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison (in October). He is thought to be skulking around Dubai, where all sorts of rich criminal types wash up.


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