- Protesters camping out in Lumpini Park.
The last time we heard from Our Man in Thailand (OMIT for short), Bangkok was in the middle of a citywide elections fight with gunfire, walls of humans trying to block the polling stations, random beat-downs (though not of foreigners), and the city streets choked with the Occupy-style tents of anti-government demonstrators.
In brief: The Yingluck government, which many argue is run by her exiled plutocrat, ex-prime minister brother Thaksin, had been facing stiff opposition from Bangkok's middle and upper-middle classes. A few months ago, OMIT characterized the fight as "oligarchs vs. plutocrats." Yingluck tried to ignore the protesters, then to mollify them by holding a national vote—confident she'd win because the Yingluck/Thaksin family has carefully cultivated a loyal, populist following among the rural farmers and poor.
So the anti-government crowd, the "yellow shirts," tried to disrupt the election and make its results—which would probably have gone to Yingluck—nullified. Historically, middle classes have tended to be pro-democracy, but Marc Saxer wrote an interesting essay exploring why the middle classes are so frustrated with Thai democracy.
Today, Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled that they succeeded: It annulled the results, leaving the government in a weak and half-formed state and Yingluck staring down the barrel of impeachment proceedings for corruption in a rice-subsidy scheme.
And how are the protesters doing? A few days ago, OMIT writes, the official state of emergency—which restricted the press even more than usual, as well as gatherings of citizens—was lifted. "But," he says, "we still remain in an 'emergency-lite' situation."
There are still tens of thousands of protesters camped out in Lumpini Park, the biggest and oldest in Bangkok, and their amplified speeches still run all night and in front of many government offices.
Despite disturbing the foreigners who use Lumpini to jog in (and apparently the monitor lizards there not been happy either), the protests are largely ignored by the Western media as they are away from tourist areas.
He also noted that many of the tents are identical, an indication that wealthy interests are buying material in bulk to subsidize the protests (apologies for the blurry photo):
So, in short, they are still going on—and huge—but do not affect the daily life of most people here and almost none of the estimated quarter-million expatriates living in Bangkok.
What happens next is still up in the air. The Thai courts may impeach Yingluck as the protesters want, which would enrage the Reds [Yingluck and Thaksin supporters]. Or the courts could not impeach her, which could get the whole process started again.
I'm guessing a combination of the two will happen, which would save face for both parties. Perhaps the courts will nullify the elections but not depose Yingluck, and Thaksin has a son (Panthongtae Shinawatra) who owns a TV and entertainment company and has been asserting himself recently.
Like President Coolidge said about America, the business of Thailand is business and most are anxious to return to a state of normalcy. This may be an example of capitalism over ideology or history being the prime mover of a state—an example of the Frederic Bastiat line about how "if goods do not cross borders, armies will."
Most people here are interested in seeing the wheels being greased. I think that the violence subdued after everyone realized that it would sink Thailand's economy. Companies could move to Vietnam and Indonesia in a way that they could not before. Tourism has already taken a hit and could be much worse.
The military barricades are still up, looking for bomb throwers—but, this being Thailand, they have publicly stated that they want to soften the image in the city, thus most of them are now decorated with flower pots and orchids.
One I saw the other day even had a fake waterfall attached to the front.
In the US, Occupy was a success for changing the dialogue about wealth in America. But here, it's less a question of changing minds and more of a staring contest between two sides whose minds are made up. The side that backs down or gets violent loses.
OMIT ended his email, as he always does, by saying that nobody knows what's going to happen.
And here, for a palette cleanser, is a video of UK tourists filming monitor lizards in Lumpini Park: