What are the Bangkok protests about?

  • Posted onFebruary 11th, 2014

Bangkok Shutdown 2014Since the morning of January 13th 2014, Bangkok has experienced large scale anti-government protests which have disrupted day-to-day life in Thailand and hit the news headlines all over the world. This has caused a huge number of tourists and travelers to cancel their Bangkok/Thailand trips. Images of blockaded roads, whistle blowing protesters and carnival type atmospheres have beamed around the world, along with juxtaposing stories of violent clashes, bomb attacks and bloody shootings, leaving many outside Thailand wondering what is actually going on? Many are left trying to understand if it is still safe for foreigners to visit Bangkok at this time.

Bangkok protestsWhat is going on?

In an attempt to shut down Bangkok, gain international attention, and put pressure on the current Thai government to step-down, anti-government protesters have created a series of blockades at some of the capitals major junctions and surrounded several key government buildings. This is primarily in an attempt to make Bangkok and Thailand ungovernable and force the current government to leave office.

The anti-government protesters are accusing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of being a puppet for her elder brother and former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.  Thaksin was in power from 2001 and had (and still has) huge support from Thailand’s rural communities, particular those in the North East of the country (Isaan). Thaksin introduced a number of programs to help Thailand’s poorer communities, such as subsidized fuel costs, microfinance schemes, and health care. While Thaksin’s support in the poorer parts of the country rocketed, many traditionalists, elitists, and those in Bangkok, saw him as a threat to the King, and accused him of being corrupt and buying votes from the poor.

Bangkok shutdownAfter a series of protests and a military coup in 2006, Thaksin was ousted out, and subsequently charged and convicted of corruption in absentia. Though Thaksin and his followers strongly denied these charges, Thaksin fled Thailand to avoid imprisonment and has since remained in exile outside of the country.

Since 2006 anti-Thaksin protests saw the ruling party removed from government and Abhisit Vejjajiva and the democrat party put in to power. This was followed by large pro-Thaksin protests and further elections, which saw Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin, elected as Prime Minster.

While many opposition followers have long accused Yingluck of running the country under the direction of Thaksin, it was in November 2013 when the latest protests really began, in response to Yingluck bringing forward an amnesty bill which would allow Thaksin to re-enter Thailand minus his criminal charges, and reunite him with $1.2 billion in seized cash and assets.

BKK shutWhat do the protesters want?

In a nut shell, the anti-government protesters want Yingluck and the Pheu Thai Party to leave office and for a non-elected people’s council to run Thailand. They see the current government as too corrupt and they don’t believe any current election will be fair. The ‘red shirts’, as Thaksin and Yingluck followers are known, believe this all to be sour grapes, and feel the anti-government protesters are trying to bully their way into power, as the red shirts have the clear majority vote.

Despite Yingluck responding by staging fresh elections on February 2nd, this only served to up the scale and intensity of the protests, as many polling stations were also blocked and disrupted, causing further tension and confrontation.

Victory Monument portestsIs Bangkok safe to visit?

Well, what does all this mean to the average foreigner in Thailand?  For those who avoid political debate and remain respectful of both parties (and all aspects of Thai culture), there is little danger. For the most, the protest sites are extremely peaceful, many have been more like festivals than political protests, with stages of live music and dancing filling the void between political speakers, as well as vendors selling souvenirs (whistles and Thai flags sales are through the roof!), clothes, and delicious food, filling most of the sidewalk space at these sites.

Moreover, these protest sites are avoidable for tourists and travelers, with all the main protests sites at major traffic junctions across the city (Sala Deng, Silom, Asoke, Victory Monument, and Lat Prao). Even the protests at Silom and Asoke are avoidable for those visiting the malls and entertainment centers in the area, and you can easily give these sites a wide birth.

The obvious disruption is to traffic, and as well as major junctions being block there has been a general knock-on effect to traffic across the city. However, the protesters have vowed not to disrupt public transport, and the MRT and BTS trains have been running as normal – as well as the Airport Link which has seen no major disruptions or delays.

So, is Bangkok safe for tourists? From my experience, being here, on the ground in Bangkok, I’d say yes. I have actually had family come to visit from abroad since the protests began, and if I was in any real doubt about their security I wouldn’t have let them come here. If, however, you have strong political views about the current situation in Thailand, and/or plan on spending time at the protest sites, either joining in with the  protests, or observing them close up, then you are putting yourself in potential danger, and could well get in trouble.

Use common sense, show respect, and avoid the obvious protest sites, while keeping up with developments via local new sources and you shouldn’t be in any danger.

 

The TAT recommends leaving four hours to get to the airport before check-in. While this is tad over-cautious, it is certainly worth pre-planning your airport journey with care. There are help desks manned with tourist police at the airport, as well as further such desks at Siam, Phaya Thai, Ekkamai and Wong Wian Yai skytrain stations, and Hua Lamphong Train Station.

Leave your comment for “What are the Bangkok protests about?”