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Since 2006 Thailand has been in a state of political flux but the economy is still growing

 

Sunday 13th April 2014 10:00pm

Travel to Thailand to find Love not an issue as political unrest continues

Despite a state of continuous unrest, Thailand is still a safe travel destination for foreign men seeking love and relationships with Thai women.

Cheap international airline flights and the wonders of internet dating have opened up the prospect of love in Thailand as an adventurous new relationship option. This has proved to be a big hit with middle aged and now increasingly, younger men in western countries. The trend continues but some online love makers have recently asked questions about the background noise from Thailand which talks of strife and political unrest.

While the political unrest in Thailand has prompted more Thai women to take an interest in TV news bulletins and for other Thai women, confirmed their belief in a new life in foreign countries, it has really been life as normal in the Kingdom of Thailand. One big change has been the growth and interest in current affairs among the less well off in Thailand. In recent years Thailand has seen an array of political TV channels and dedicated news programmes explaining the views of both sides and Thai commentators putting Thailand in the context of international norms. Indeed the proliferation of the internet in Thailand, the growth of external influences and the modernization of the country are all elements of the same story according to one magazine writer. 'Thailand since the new millennium has begun to open up and see itself as quite a modern country, the same Thai women who look to western countries for a new life are the same women who are looking to a modern and successful Asian country. It doesn't matter if you're a red shirt or a yellow shirt, there is a feeling of pride in the country and an appetite for change, this is the reason for the unrest even though it started with one man (Thaksin Shiniwatra)' says Carla Boonkong a magazine writer in Bangkok.

Is it safe to travel to Thailand to find love?

The current political unrest in Thailand has caused some foreign men to question travel to the country and to lose confidence in the country's stability. Although most foreigners in Thailand will say that things are pretty much normal, this is not how it appears for foreigners watching international TV news channels. By their very nature, these TV news reports come at times when the political tensions flare up and are almost exclusive from protest sites or scenes of conflict giving a more dramatic account of what is happening in Thailand.

'It would be true to say that most foreigners have gotten used to political unrest in Thailand. In many ways they find it difficult to understand the issues at stake and reporting on foreign media has been sometimes confused and inaccurate, even for foreigners living in Thailand. Personally I believe the current unrest could be more dangerous for the country if the deadlock continues. Foreign media coverage has not been particularly heavy or indeed accurate,' says James Morris, an international correspondent in Bangkok. 'To give a fuller picture would obviously take up too much airtime and the story itself is so complicated, even bizarre, to those outside the country. There is an advertisement that says 'Amazing Thailand' and this is often used by foreigners to express their disbelief. The best way to understand the problem in Thailand and the Thais themselves is to think of a close knit family engaged in a quarrel. The best advice in such situations is always not to get involved and to accept that you won't understand what it's about and let them get on with it.'

Thai political unrest causes baht to drop in value

The current unrest has seen the Thai currency, the baht, drop in value and has on the surface damaged tourist numbers and visitors to the country. Reports from Thai authorities however suggest that there has been a 20% drop in tourism levels mainly from foreigners from other Asian countries while tourism numbers from western countries are also down. 'The longer the unrest continues the more worrying it is when you consider that there are no more alternatives for western visitors like Cambodia and Vietnam but I think also that Thailand will recover from this,' says Morris.

Unrest has little impact on foreigners seeking love in Thailand

A 2013 survey of foreigners seeking love in Thailand showed that 69% of online users planned to visit Thailand in the coming 12 months. 'There is a link obviously between finding love in Thailand and visiting the country. I think it has put off some foreign men seeking love in Thailand as this usually involves travel to Thailand. It certainly affects some foreigners considering investing in Thailand or looking at the option of living there long terms. The remarkable thing is that they keep coming very year in hundreds of thousands. So if you're asking me if the political unrest is a factor, I'd say it turns off a small percentage at the outset but anyone who has become involved in dating Thai women will not think twice, the unrest has had a very small impact.'

Thai women talk to western men about Thai politics online

For Thai women currently on Thailand's No. 1 Dating site ThaiLoveLines, the issues are a little different. 'I talk with some guys from America and Europe and they ask me about the problems in my country. It is hard to explain to them. I feel a bit down about it. Will it ever stop!' says Chompoo from Udon Thani. Chompoo is a red shirt supporter as his her family but she has many friends even in this northern town who support the other side who were 'yellow shirts' but now also use 'blue' and 'black shirts.' In fact Chompoo and her family moved to Udon Thani in the North of Thailand about fifteen years ago from middle class Bangkok. Many of her extended family are staunch supporters of the anti government protests in Bangkok. Many of the people in Chompoo's family work in government jobs either in government department or as teachers. Chompoo herself loves Thaksin Shiniwatra, the exiled Premier. She tells us that Thaksin's government introduced programmes over ten years ago which allowed her family to deal with a financial crisis and keep their home. She also was able to buy her own home. 'I like Thaksin and the Pheu Thai party because they care about people in Thailand,' she says. This one lady and her family illustrate the complexity of the unrest in Thailand.

Foreigners find Thai political crisis difficult to understand

'For most foreigners the coloured shirts are very confusing. Some don't like this at all and are reminded of fascism in Europe. It is a fairly accurate observation I should think. What is happening now in Thailand is open demagoguery. I think this appears to many foreigners living in Thailand to be potentially dangerous no matter which side you're on. On the other hand veteran foreigners who have lived in Thailand for decades take the view that it something Thais must work out for themselves. It certainly is not a good idea for any foreigner to take sides,' says James Morris.

'I explain to the men I have met online that this is normal in Thailand and that Thai people will find the answer for it as this is a time of change in Thailand,' says Chompoo speaking to us from her home in Udon Thani.

Is it advisable to travel to Thailand and Bangkok?

The answer to the question is yes although it is advisable to exercise caution when walking near protests areas in Bangkok. During the current 2013/2014 period of unrest, the protests have tended to focus on central areas in Bangkok frequented by tourists but including specific suburbs where there are government offices. However things are relatively normal. 'Bangkok has lost a lot of income due to the protests but certainly there is no reason why anyone should cancel or postpone a trip. Thailand has always been a little like this and although the current unrest promises to drag on and may even represent a more serious threat to the future of the country, up ahead, for now it's nearly business as usual even in Bangkok,' says Morris.

American with Thai wife who likes Fox News

Peter is a 57 year old American man from Nantucket Massachusetts. Since 2007 he has been married to Waraporn 32 from Roiet in the north of Thailand. They have a home in Pattaya and also one in the US. The couple has been spending three to four months in Thailand each year. This year is no different but Peter says he is worried.

'I have just arrived back in Thailand after very cold weather in the USA and it is still delightful to walk on the beach in the sunshine but I can feel from Waraporn and her friends that the ongoing unrest in Thailand is taking a toll. They are all a bit downhearted,' he says.

During the current unrest in Thailand the government went so far as to issue a warning from the Thai Ministry of Health advising Thai people not to watch so much news as there is a health danger which may causes mental issues for Thai people.

'I can understand this,' says Peter 'Thais are very happy people and like to get along together harmoniously; they seem to have a sort of consciousness together as nation that is really unique I would say. Right now they are glued to news reports. I am not a pundit or political observer but what has been going on in Thailand since 2006 is a power struggle. Most of Waraporn's friends support the yellow shirt groups that want the current government of Yingluck Shinawatra out but now my wife supports the red shirts. She's kinda in middle one day wearing yellow and the next red! I like to tell to take it easy. It might be that she likes Thailand's first woman Prime Minister but I also think it's the time she has spent in the US, she's a Fox News fan and feels that Thailand must become more democratic. But she still gets along with her friends and doesn't like to cause offence.'

Thai wife in tears as Thailand's first woman PM breaks down

Peter stayed on in the USA for Christmas this year and Waraporn came to Thailand in November to avoid the worst of the weather. During this time the Prime Minister of Thailand made an emotional TV appearance and appeared to break down. 'I was on the phone from the US and my wife was in tears and emotionally upset as were two of her friends, it seemed surreal something especially Thai' says Peter.

'Personally I have no view on Thai politics. That is my view, I love the country as a second home but I will never be Thai. I am proud that my wife has her views and I will only sometimes suggest that she questions what she says about her. Most foreigners I know would support the yellow shirt because they see it as the Royalist side. That could be because the main English speaking newspapers seem to adopt this line. Really I don't understand it all myself.'

Foreigners online discuss Thai political unrest

Many foreigners in Thailand unlike Peter have taken time to study politics and current affairs and spend time online discussing the Thai political situation.

'I see foreigners engaging in political fights online. I'd say for most foreigners retired in Thailand, it's the day job while they socialise in the evening. Some of the online discussions get heated. I understand that many of the guys know a lot and have a lot of experience but I tend to feel that the least said the better. I think most Thais would prefer it that way.'

Background to Thai political unrest for foreigners

Thailand is a unique country not only in Asia but in the world. Thailand is a Kingdom where the King is Head of State. In the 1930's the country became a constitutional monarchy. In the years since then, the monarchy has grown in stature to such an extent that it now venerated by all sections of Thai society.

In the course of the constitutional monarchy, there has been over 30 coup or coup attempts in the country. In spite of this, Thailand has still managed to develop, in a steady fashion, with gains in living standards and very a peace loving population inspired by Buddhist traditions. However power in Thailand, including economic and political power, has centred on Bangkok and a privileged elite. The Democrat party was Thailand's leading political party up to the arrival of Thaksin Shiniwatra in 2001 but the military, since the 1930's, has been the political force guaranteeing the country's stability. The monarchy in Thailand is above politics and a unifying force.

Thailand's financial crisis and Thaksin Shiniwatra

The 1997 Asian Financial collapse was a great shock to the country which had reached unprecedented levels of wealth. In 2001 Thaksin Shinawatra came to power in a landslide with his new political party Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais). A successful business tycoon, he offered government initiatives for Thailand's poor outside Bangkok but particularly in Thailand's deprived northern regions. He was initially very successful in government and consolidated his power base with another election victory in 2005. After this a scandal arose from the sale of his company which including key Thai communications assets to a Singapore company. It was claimed that tax had been avoided by yellow shirt activists who initially launched the protests. This led to political unrest in Bangkok with the tacit backing of Thailand's Democrat Party against the prominence of one man and his party.

2006 coup in Thailand deposes Thaksin as PM

In 2006 the army staged a coup and deposed Thaksin while he attended a UN conference. The Constitution was subsequently changed by an interim government appointed by the army. Despite Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party being banned, a new party was formed, the Peoples Power Party by Thaksin supporters to contest new elections. Meanwhile Thaksin was prosecuted for corruption, convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. Despite a brief appearance in Thailand, he later opted to live in exile. The party he supported won the 2008 election and two governments were formed under Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat. Both governments suffered unrest driven by Yellow shirt protesters in 2008 and 2009. Indeed since the 2006 protests the yellow shirt movement has organised protests against all elected governments broadly linked to Thaksin including the current Pheu Thai administration.

Thailand: PM loses office for hosting TV show

One Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, Thailand's 25th was banned from office by a court ruling after he had refused to give up jobs as a celebrity TV Chef. The court ruled that it was a constitutional violation to be in the employment of a private commercial enterprise. Samak, a colourful and controversial figure, had been warned by legal advisers about this but insisted on continuing the role. A second Prime Minister of the Peoples Power Party, Somchai Wongsawat (26th prime Minister of Thailand), Thaksin's brother-in-law was also ousted by a court ruling and the party's executives banned over a vote buying scandal involving one member.

Democrat Party PM installed after court ruling

After this, Atheist Vejjajiva, leader of the old Democrat Party came to power elected by a rump of the parliament left after the court's ruling. The traditional ruling party in Thailand has not, in fact, won an election since the arrival of Thaksin into the consciousness of the Thai public in 2001. The election of Abhisit Vejjajiva as Prime Minister inspired very bitter red shirt protests which led to loss of live and destruction in Bangkok in 2010. 'The loss of life during the 2010 protests in Bangkok have left a deep scar on both sides, on one hand the red shirt movement has pressed for charges to be brought against the former Prime Minister and government officials at that time but after the protests were quelled in 2010, a number of large shopping centres were destroyed mysteriously by fire. This wanton destruction and some very provocative rhetoric by certain red shirt leaders put a lot of people on guard against extremist red shirt elements,' says Morris. 'There is a feeling among most people in Thailand on both sides, that wants to avoid extremes, that's why the standoff is so difficult to understand.'

Red shirt movement in Thailand

From this, the red shirt movement has emerged as a voice somewhat independent of Thaksin established to fight for democracy and the rights of poorer Thai citizens. It must be said that many yellow shirt supporters view the red shirt movement as being orchestrated by Thaksin from exile and this is one of their main talking points. Indeed the red shirt movement does seem to act in alliance with the former Thai Prime Minister and his political allies although there have been issues of contention between them. 'The red shirt movement seems to a be a disparate grouping whose goal seems to be the maintenance of an active democracy but it has been tarnished somewhat by violent actions during the 2010 protests against the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. Personally I think during the current crisis in 2014, it has tried to act responsibly even though there are some fringe elements who have stepped outside the pale.'

Pheu Thai and landslide for Yingluck Shiniwatra

In 2011, a new party supported by this movement and Thaksin, the Pheu Thai party won a landslide election victory sweeping Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister into power as PM. There was some hope for this government after it appeared the Democrat Party accepted the election result.

This government embarked on many populist initiatives including an expensive rice support scheme and infrastructure projects. However it also introduced a plan for an Amnesty bill which may have given Thaksin a way to return to Thailand. This bill and a proposal by Yingluck's government to amend the 2007 Constitution by parliamentary vote was struck down by the Constitutional Court in Thailand prompting the latest protests.

Anti government protesters in 2014 call for reform in Thailand

The current protesters are calling for an appointed (unelected) Prime Minister and reforms to the election process to make it more difficult for wealthy individuals to fund political movements but there have also been suggestions of restricting the one man one vote principle in Thailand.

It appears that there is a division in Thailand between the poorer Thais living outside Bangkok and those close to government circles on one hand but complex political fights on the other. The majority of Thais support unfettered democracy and progressive government policies, in spite of the influence of one man or family. On the other hand, there are the established powers in Bangkok along with a sizeable and more educated minority, who feel that Thailand's would be prudent to move slowly and carefully with safeguards to prevent power falling into the hands of that one family and policies which may prove dangerous for the stability of the country.

Thai PM awaits dismissal as elections are deemed invalid

Currently in 2014, the Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra is facing dismissal by an anti corruption panel and a legal case. The snap election which she called in response to the protests which began in 2013, was held on February 2nd 2014 but subsequently declared invalid after protesters successfully blockaded the polls in some provinces. 'It seems to be classic power struggle. So far the role of the army has been quite positive in protecting protesters and declining to intervene in the rolling unrest but the current impasse cannot go on indefinitely. That is the challenge Thailand faces. What's staggering is that, in spite of everything, Thailand's economy continues to grow and Thailand is still a relatively successfully country,' says Morris. 'I hope they can get it right but it's only a hope.'

Widening of the debate on Thailand's future

However while the current political unrest in Thailand has been about one man and one family (Thaksin Shinawatra) the longer it has gone on, the more the 'redshirt' elements have begun to widen the debate and begun to question the roles of the army, the judiciary and perceived economic elites in Thailand. This has further entrenched the 'yellow shirt' faction who see the army and judiciary as fundamentally integral to the Kingdom and worth preserving as a break or lever on democratic forces. Many will ask how is it that a billionaire tycoon, who should be a part of the elite, is a hero to the poorer redshirts? Some would say many redshirts no longer idolise Thaksin Shiniwatra while others would say that it is an example of the irony that is Thailand.

A political conflict for a unique culture which is Thailand

To understand the problem, we must understand that Thailand is a very unique country. Many Thais do not automatically feel that what is normal to international standards should apply to Thailand. Thailand means the land of the 'free' and many Thais have interpreted this to mean a freedom to think for themselves. This is one of the arguments put forward by the current establishment elite while a majority of poorer Thais feel that it is time that Thailand changed to meet international standards of democracy and economic development. 'There does seem to be a yearning among poorer Thais for a modernisation of the country and this is one of the reasons why Thaksin's popularity endures, his rule from 2001 seemed transformational for Thailand including things like the Bangkok BTS and Underground, health schemes and rural development,' says James Morris. 'On the other hand many Thais and some foreigners also, who have been in Thailand for a long time, would like to see Thailand go a bit more carefully and preserve the unique and quiet way of life that you still can find in Thailand.'

On a positive note, in spite of violence sometimes seen, there is a very strong sense of the preservation of life in Thailand and cultural values, which may help the country to find a solution. It is certainly this culture and tradition which has protected the country thus far.

ThaiLoveLines.com is Thailand’s biggest internet dating site with over 220,000 members and growing rapidly …Begin your search for a Thai girlfriend, wife or partner here.


Travel to Thailand is safe even though political unrest continues
Thailand has been in a state of political unrest since 2006. For those seeking Love in Thailand or considering travel to the Kingdom, it helps to understand the political situation and the cause of the unrest.
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