Phuket Is Still Peaceful

I’ve never been a political animal… and, never will be, but I would be remiss as the Thailand columnist for this forum not to share my impressions of the protests and the election that never really was.

Most people who ask us about the situation are obviously concerned for our safety. They needn’t be. We have felt absolutely no repercussions in Phuket from the protests since they were reignited in November when the current prime minister attempted to pass an amnesty bill that would have allowed her brother, the ousted PM, to return to Thailand without facing the corruption charges he would have to otherwise.Basically, the protesters want her to resign. They are proposing that a non-elected People’s Democratic Reform Committee take charge and totally re-vamp the existing system, which they claim is corrupt. An article on the ABC News website on Feb. 10 said that “She has refused to resign, arguing she was elected by a large majority and is open to reform, but that such a council would be unconstitutional and undemocratic.”

She called for an early election, which seemed the democratic thing to do. It didn’t appease the masses gathering on the streets of the capital city. They don’t believe that, as the system stands now, a fair election is remotely possible. They are not willing to allow the process to happen unimpeded. They blocked the delivery of paper ballots to several districts (including Phuket) and also blocked people from voting in many districts creating situation now where there are not enough members in the House of Representatives for a quorum. Bars and shops on Phuket were closed on what was supposed to be Election Day but even if you could have found a polling station, there were no ballots available on which to place your mark.

We have been watching from a distance and from my perspective, it seems like the right to free speech is being exercised and the sitting government has been allowing the protesters to express themselves. Initially, the police were told not to engage, unless absolutely necessary and until recently, the protests were peaceful. A friend of mine who came to visit had walked among the protesters in Bangkok and said they were singing and dancing. However, people are getting weary on both sides and tempers are getting short. Business has been disrupted and the biggest industry, tourism, is being seriously impacted. Shopkeepers and restaurant owners here are complaining about a slow season and we read every day about people cancelling their vacations. I read in an Australian newspaper that there’s been an 88 percent drop in Ossies looking for accommodation on the island.

When I talk to my Thai friends about this they just shrug… all they want is to work hard and make enough money to feed their families. There does appear to be some voter apathy and I wouldn’t be surprised if the voter turnout even before now has been pretty low. I’ve read that the crowds in Bangkok are dying down and the momentum has waned. There is talk of follow up by-elections being held in April to allow those who were blocked from voting to do so and for the remaining seats to be filled. But I doubt the people I talked to will bother until there is a total re-vamp of the system. In the meantime, the current government has been called a ‘place-holder’ until the election process can be completed. It’s a ‘wait and see’ whether or not that will happen. I just hope and pray for a peaceful solution.

by Anne O’Connell.

A published author and freelance writer, Anne O’Connell, has been an expat since 1993 when she and her husband escaped the cold of Toronto, Canada and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They enjoyed the sun and sand for 14 years, while she worked in the PR field, and then decided it was time for a new adventure. Heading for even more sun and sand, they moved to Dubai in late 2007 and then on to Thailand in 2011.

Anne has been working as a freelance copywriter and communications consultant since 2007, specializing in marketing, corporate communications, public relations, social media and website content. She and her husband have a passion for travel and that adventurous spirit has taken them all over the world. Anne grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has a bachelor of public relations from Mount St. Vincent University. You can visit her website at www.anne-oconnell.com or her blog at www.anne-writingjustbecause.blogspot.com.

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