July 3rd. Election day. As the Thai people cast their votes there’s really only one question on everyone’s mind: Reds or Yellows? I think you all are somewhat aware of the political situation here but let me break it down. First of all, there are more than two parties. I know it sounds like it’s just the two sides fighting for control but there’re other players. They aren’t nearly as polarizing (or popular) but they do have their views and they bring in enough votes that they can’t be dismissed. The real big dogs though are the Pheu Thai Party (red shirts’ new party) and the People’s Alliance for Democracy (yellow shirts). Before you ask “which is republican and which is democrat?” let me just say that the answer isn’t that easy and there isn’t really a 1:1 match. All this drama started with Thaksin Shinawatra who was a telecommunications tycoon turned Prime Minister was convicted on corruption charges 5 years ago. He fled the country rather than go to prison and the Thai government has seized something like $2 billion of his money. While he was in office, Thaksin was a champion of the poor down-trodden farmer increasing social spending to rural areas and building a strong voter base (the red shirts) who want to see his policies continued. The yellow shirts, on the other hand, are more closely associated with the military, the royal family, and the city-dwellers (liberal elite?) Thaksin was tossed out on legitimate corruption charges but it was seen by his supporters as a big-city scheme to toss out the one guy working hard for them (and Thaksin played no small part in spreading that idea). The next guy in line after Thaksin was his brother or something so he was tossed quickly too, and then the yellow shirts tossed the third guy after he appeared on a cooking show breaking constitutional law somehow (something about receiving payment for non-governmental service… a very flimsy excuse which rightfully enflamed the red shirts further.) All this led to a yellow shirted PM and a lot of angry farmers.
The elections today are part of the settlement of the violent protests of about a year ago and the outcome will say a lot about Thailand. If the yellow shirts win and retain power, then we will likely see allegations of corruption and vote tampering and probably another large scale protest. The other scenario is the red shirts prevail, elect Thailand’s first ever female prime minister (Thaksin’s little sister), and open up the doors for Thaksin to reenter the country that he divided. Either way there’s gonna be some aftermath so keep watching the news. I'll have some more follow-up on this later.