It is happening all over again on the streets of Bangkok. Anti-government protests have rocked the city for a few weeks now and on Monday the protestors — by most estimates more than a lakh — laid siege to the finance ministry calling for the ouster of the government.
Bangkok had witnessed protests against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 and in 2008 — the latter led to the shutdown of the Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The immediate provocation for the protests was an attempt by the government to pass an amnesty Bill on November 11, which was aimed at whitewashing the charges of corruption against Thaksin, who is the brother of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The senior leader of the opposition Democratic Party, Suthep Thaugsuban, says the protestors will not settle for anything less than the “Thaksin regime being wiped out”. While the anti-Thaksin voices are predominantly urban, the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PTP) enjoys support in the populous rural areas of Thailand.
The PTP, founded by Thaksin, had a resounding victory in the 2011 general elections. Also to be remembered is the massive protests in 2010 by the ‘red shirts’ demanding Thaksin’s return. However, the ‘no-confidence’ motion Yingluck is facing in Parliament is crucial and it needs to be seen how it will impact the situation in the country.
The developments in Thailand are something India should keenly observe. Since 2001, India and Thailand have been exploring ways of increasing economic ties and a framework agreement for establishing free trade between the two countries was signed in 2003.
That a Free Trade Agreement featured in the talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, when Singh was in Bangkok in May, stresses the importance of the ties. The Thai PM invited India to invest in its deep-sea ports and special economic zones in Myanmar.
This is a part of Yingluck’s ‘Look West’ policy and while Bangkok is building ties with New Delhi, it is also sending a clear message to Beijing. With the two-way trade between the nations at almost $9 billion in 2012-13, India has a great stake in political stability in Thailand.