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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 3-Dec-2008
Thailand government collapses, ending crippling riots from class war

Web Log - December, 2008

Thailand government collapses, ending crippling riots from class war

Bangkok's airports will open for the first time in a week on Friday, after tens of thousands of young anti-government demonstrators agreed to leave the airports, ending their occupation.

Top: PAD members camping out in the airport.  Middle: Protester getting a haircut at the airport. Bottom: Ebullient protesters cheering at the court verdict <font face=Arial size=-2>(Source: BBC, The Age, Al Jazeera)</font>
Top: PAD members camping out in the airport. Middle: Protester getting a haircut at the airport. Bottom: Ebullient protesters cheering at the court verdict (Source: BBC, The Age, Al Jazeera)

The protesters agreed to leave the airports after Thailand's constitutional court ruled that many government officials should should be banned from politics for five years. The banned politicians include Somchai Wongsawat, the prime minister, as well as numerous officials from the ruling People Power party (PPP). This gives the demonstrators, the so-called People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the political victory that they were seeking.

The occupation of the airports had a carnival atmosphere, with partying, food, and even people giving haircuts.

I've been following this situation as an outsider for several years now, and at times it's seemed almost hilarious.

Thaksin Shinawatra is a telecommunications mogul who was educated and earned a fortune in the United States. He won an election as Prime Minister in 2001. In office, he implemented a number of programs that were favored by the large mass of rural voters in the northeast of the country. Thaksin became very popular with the poor rural voters in the north and northeast, but he angered the wealthier, better educated elite population in the southern areas around Bangkok.


Since there are a lot more poor rural people than elite wealthy people, Thaksin won reelection in 2005.

The army, siding with Thailand's elite, staged a bloodless coup in 2006, overthrowing the government. By the end of 2007, there are new elections, and Thaksin's PPP easily won control of the Parliament, and named a Thaksin ally as the new Prime Minister.

Thaksin himself wasn't twiddling his thumbs. He fled to London, where he bought the Manchester City Football (soccer) Club, one of the major sports clubs in Britain, much to the disgust of many of the players and sports fans.

Eventually Thaksin was forced to give up the Club. He returned to Thailand this year, where he was to face corruption charges, but he was permitted to attend the Olympics games in Beijing, so he was able to escape prosecution. It's thought that he's hiding in Hong Kong right now.

Meanwhile, in December 2007, the PPP elected a new Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej.

Well, it turns out that Samak is also quite a good amateur cook, and for many years he's hosted a televised cooking show. He kept on with the cooking show after he became Prime Minister, causing a court in September to remove him from office, because the cooking show represented a conflict of interest with his job as Prime Minister.

You just can't make this stuff up.

And so in September the Parliament, still controlled by the PPP, elected a new Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat.

That was about the time that the PAD started its organized protests, occupying government buildings, often shutting the government down completely. The kids demanded that Somchai resign as Prime Minister, and he refused.

So early last week, the kids in the PAD shut down Bangkok's two airports, also shutting down the country's tourist business, as well as much of its export business. The occupation was crippling the country's economy, but now the court has ruled that Somchai and other PPP officials are to be banned from holding office. The kids have decided to go home, so the airports can open again.

Thailand's Summer of Love?

News reports have been talking darkly of possible violence and revolution, but this is clearly an Awakening era protest, with no chance at all of sustained violence.

This situation has been going on for several months, and there's nothing about it that seems dangerous or destabilizing. The news reports describe these massive protests as having "a carnival atmosphere." There are no calls for revolution, just a new election to get rid of the current government leaders, who the demonstrators claim are Thaksin proxies.

This reminds me of nothing so much as the Summer of Love, where tens of thousands of young people poured into San Francisco in 1967 to protest the Vietnam War, and launch a "Flower Power" cultural revolution.

(For information about generational Awakening eras, see "Basics of Generational Dynamics." For information about America's Awakening era in the 1960s-70s, see "Iraq Today vs 1960s America." For information about the Summer of Love, see "Boomers commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love.")

So Thailand's immediate crisis is finally resolved. But this isn't the end of the class war. Conflicts between the rural north and the elite south will continue, but they'll be political clashes during an Awakening era.

There'll certainly be some violence, but in order to put it into perspective, there was plenty of violence in America during the 1960s.

In August, 1963, Martin Luther King led a march on Washington in which over 200,000 people participated. Later, President Kennedy was assassinated, and so was King. There were numerous huge demonstrations and violent riots throughout the country. There were "long, hot summers," led by the Black Panthers, and there were bombings and declarations of war against the government, led by the Weather Underground. There was a huge violent battle at the Democratic convention in 1968, and college kids were shot by state troopers at Kent State in 1971. President Lyndon Johnson was driven from office, and President Richard Nixon was forced to resign.

Contrast what's going on today in Bangkok to the violence that occurred in Tibet last spring. Or contrast it to what's going on in Nigeria, with hundreds of bodies piled up on the streets.

Nothing like that is going on in Bangkok. You have kids frolicking with one another, and the police are "reluctant" to do more than ask nicely for the protestors to stop. This is the epitome of an Awakening era conflict.

Generational history of Thailand

In the "Thailand protests - will they escalate?" thread of the Generational Dynamics forum, we've been debating what's going on in Thailand.

One problem is that it's very hard to tell from history books when Thailand had its last generational crisis war. It's been thought that the last crisis war was World War II, since Thailand was occupied by Japanese forces during World War II.

But reading the descriptions of what happened, it seems clear that the Thai people did what they had to in order to keep from being overrun by the Japanese, and no more. There was no "genocidal energy" on the part of the Thai people in WW II, so that couldn't be the last crisis war.

Usually when we do a generational history of a country, we start with the crisis eras and crisis wars because they're so horrible that they're the easiest to identify in history books. But that's not a requirement. There are characteristics of other eras (Recovery Era, Awakening Era, Unraveling Era) that allow us to identify those eras first.

That's the case for Thailand today. Once we conclude that the recent protests are Awakening era protests, there's only one clear choice for Thailand's last crisis war: The Cambodian "killing fields" genocide in the 1970s.

This may seem strange, because the Cambodian genocide didn't take place on Thai soil. But that isn't a requirement for a crisis war; for example, WW II was a crisis war for both the US and Canada, but it didn't take place on North American soil at all, except for the Pearl Harbor attack.

The Cambodian genocide did not take place on Thai soil, but it took place on Thailand's doorstep. Thailand did not participate in the genocide, but they politically supported the perpetrators, the Khmer Rouge.

There's a great deal of shame in the aftermath of genocidal acts -- in fact, it's exactly this shame that unites survivors of a crisis war -- both winners and losers -- in their determination that nothing like that should ever happen again. This shame causes people in the inter-crisis period to "forget" about their own roles in the genocide.

The Cambodian genocide was one of the half dozen worst genocides of the 20th century, with millions of people tortured, enslaved, starved and killed. If the Thai people supported the perpetrators (Khmer Rouge), then today they may feel that they were perpetrators as well. Even without that, they may feel that they should have done something to stop the genocide. Either way, it's not something that they can be proud of. Thus, it's not surprising that it's almost impossible to find mention of the Cambodian civil war in writings about Thailand's history.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, it's necessary to do a lot more historical research to determine not only previous crisis wars in Thailand, but also the exact role of the Thai people in the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s. In particular, with respect to the current class war, it would be very interesting to understand whether there was also a split among the Thai people in dealing with the 1970s genocide.

What to watch for

Thaksin Shinawatra is a very colorful character, still alive and well somewhere in Asia. He's reviled by the PAD and disliked by the army, but he's considered a hero by the rural people who elected him. These people are absolutely furious at the court decision that removed the latest Prime Minister, Thaksin's ally. Thaksin's shadow hangs over all of Thai politics, and it would not be surprising some day soon to see his return to Thailand in some way.

The basic underlying class struggle is stronger than ever after the recent episode. With the collapse of the current government, there will have to be a new election. Thaksin's People Power Party has been banned from politics by the court decision, but there's little doubt that the same politicians will form a new party and win the next election.

News reports have been saying that the PAD will not tolerate such an event, and that they'll be back in full force if they see that coming. However, it seems likely to me that after several weeks of of occupying government buildings and airports, the kids are sick and tired of sleeping on blankets, and glad to be back in their soft beds.

The more important question is what the army will do in reaction to another election victory by a party allied to Thaksin.

There won't be a civil war in a generational Awakening era, so soon after the Cambodian genocide, but there have been plenty of "bloodless coups" in Thailand, and it's possible that the army will decide simply to abolish elections once and for all.

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the Thailand protests - will they escalate? thread of the Generational Dynamics forum.

Other topics being discussed in the forum include the following:

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