Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Western observers helped to create Thai crisis

The news in Thailand is bad and getting worse and those in the international community who voiced support for the movement against Thaksin carry some of the blame. In 2006 it seemed that the Bangkok elite and the student protesters were working for liberal values - fighting for human rights and against authoritarianism.

When Thaksin fell and the military took over in the 2006 bloodless coup - the army was in the streets of Bangkok. But so was a sense of optimism, as tourists posed in photos next to tanks, and food vendors brought sweet tea and sticky rice to soldiers wearing yellow scarves.

It felt that there had been a catharsis in Thai society. In the days after the coup, many thought the rift between the country Thais, who elected Thaksin by a giant margin, and a Bangkok elite fed-up with demagoguery and cronyism, could be healed. After a brief period of military rule, this reasoning went, Thai governance would be renewed, under a new improved constitution and the whole sequence of events would be thought of later as growing pains in the process of creating a stronger Thai democracy.

More than two years later with Thaksin going into long-term exile, the opposition's ostensive goal, the PAD has seized the Government House, invaded a state television station and is trying to push Thailand into war with Cambodia over Preah Vihear. PAD is claiming the right to use all means to overthrow any leadership with whom it disagrees and is pushing for a violent response from the government justifying renewed military rule under the royal banner.

Most disturbing is that international observers seems to have set the stage for what could well evolve into a deadly crisis. By delegitimizing Thaksin's party and sympathizing with the royalist elite, whose education and culture were mistaken for liberal bearing, the international community signaled that it was ready and willing to be taken in by the most authoritarian of forces, provided they use the language of human rights and democracy to justify their seizure of power.

Now, far to late, Thai and Western media and human rights groups are backing away from the PAD. But it seems that this time, the years of international discomfort with Thailand's democratically elected government might have already helped to take the situation past a point of no return.

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