Notes from the Field

Taking Thailand’s Political Pulse

October 14, 2009

A year ago at this time Thailand was in political disarray, with the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD, or the “yellow shirts”) occupying the Prime Minister’s office, forcing the government to work out of the VIP lounge of the domestic airport. The chaos would intensify into late 2008 when the PAD took over Bangkok’s international airport for three days, but would subside when government was reshuffled to form a coalition with the Democrat Party in the lead. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva faced an early test in March of 2009 when the pro-Thaksin National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD, or the “red shirts”) disrupted an ASEAN meeting in Pattaya. Since then, Abhisit has engaged parliament in a dialogue on constitutional reform. This has produced a period of political calm, however tentative, as the government focuses on recovery from the economic crisis.

Thailand’s present image in the international community is based in considerable part on the political events of 2006-2008. Some Thai policymakers and analysts maintain that the international media and some Western governments have been too quick to downgrade Thailand as a democracy and underestimate the country’s commitment to work through its political problems. The Asia Foundation’s new survey on “Constitutional Reform and Democracy in Thailand – A National Survey of the Thai People” tends to support that view. Conducted in the early summer of this year, the survey tests a range of public attitudes, including Thailand’s overall direction, the constitution, democratic values and Thai institutions. Read the full article.

Above is an excerpt from an article by Catharin Dalpino, Visiting Associate Professor and Director of Thai Studies in the Asian Studies Program of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and former Asia Foundation Country Representative, that originally appeared on The MacArthur Foundation’s blog site Asia Security Initiative.

View all posts by Catharin Dalpino

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