Friends and neighbors,
It’s been a rough week in Thailand.
First we had a parody of an election in which the country voted on a new constitution written by the military (a parody in that it was declared a crime, quite literally, for anyone to speak or campaign against the military’s constitution), and that was followed almost immediately by a wave of bombings in tourist spots across the south of the country. There was eleven bombs in all, or maybe twelve, and “at least” four people were killed and “about” 36 others injured, including “around” ten foreigners. Both accurate information and capable reporting are, as always, in short supply around here.
As you might expect, I’ve got a few things to say about all that, but before I do let me mention something else quickly…
I promised to let you know as soon as the paperback edition of my new Inspector Tay novel, THE GIRL IN THE WINDOW, became available.
I’m pleased to say that time is now. You can order the paperback edition of THE GIRL IN THE WINDOW from Amazon for $13.99 RIGHT HERE, or order it from Amazon UK for £10.68 RIGHT HERE. The paperback is also available at Amazon Germany, Amazon Australia, Amazon France, Amazon Canada, Amazon Italy, and all the other Amazon stores, but I don’t have those specific links yet.
Okay, that concludes our brief commercial break. Let me get back to talking about the week we’ve had here in Thailand.
Yeah, prayers have been plentiful recently because most Thais seem to have given up on having any meaningful influence on what is happening to their country.
With much fanfare about ‘a return to democracy,’ the same military that staged the coup two years ago sweeping away a popularly elected government produced a new constitution and held a national referendum on whether it should be adopted. Thailand has had twenty-four military coups since 1932, and this would be its twentieth constitution.
The constitution received the approval of around 60% of the people who voted, but turnout was very low because it was, to say the least, a strange election. Campaigning or even speaking against the new constitution was declared a crime by the military, one punishable by ten years in prison, and yes, violators were actually seized off the streets by the army and locked up. So voters were left largely in the dark as to what choices they were voting to make. Were they voting to keep the military in power, or to turn them out and hold free elections?
Regardless, the military declared that they had received a mandate from the voters for their new constitution. It has the primary purpose of keeping the army as the supreme authority in Thailand and sets up a powerless civilian government as a front, one controlled entirely by appointed rather than elected office holders. ‘Thailand Votes to Make Itself Even Less Democratic,’ one UK paper headlined the story.
A few days later, the bombings started. Hua Hin, Trang, Phuket, and Surat Thani were all hit. None of the bombs were large, and the casualty count hardly moved the needle by today’s standards of horror, but the point of the bombings was clearly to damage Thailand’s tourist industry, which is pretty much the only part of the economy not already sinking under the weight of military rule. Naturally, it took the military government less than twenty-four hours to announce that the bombings would have no impact on tourism since visitors didn’t really care about such ‘incidents.’
But returning to reality for a moment, the important question is still this: who was actually responsible for the bombings? That apparently depends on who you ask. If you read A WORLD OF TROUBLE, my third Jack Shepherd novel published nearly five years ago, you wouldn’t have to ask. You’d already know without having to go through the pain and confusion of trying to figure it out from the Bangkok Post (or you could read a pal of mine’s column that ran in the Post this morning and get an intelligent, literate summary of the various points of view; perhaps not as intelligent and literate as A WORLD OF TROUBLE, but still pretty darn worthy).
Skipping past all the cool conspiracy theories, there are two primary directions in which fingers are now being pointed. The military wants to lay the blame on the domestic political parties that existed before the coup and use the attacks to further discredit civilian political leaders of all stripes. They are therefore already energetically hunting for scapegoats…uh, make that suspects. Given the locations and timing of the bombings, however, it seems more likely the blame should actually be placed on the Muslim separatists in the south who have been waging a relentless, dirty little war against the Thai military for two generations.
That’s the way the Thai police see it, but the military nevertheless appears determined to use the bombings against their opponents no matter who was actually responsible. That leaves the army and the police very much at odds. We’ll see what the consequences of that turn out to be.
Whoever wins that tug of war, the simple truth is that foreigners who live here are worried, most more worried than they will admit. Some have already left. Many more are planning to leave. No matter how you spin the combination of military rule and growing internal insurgency, one simple fact seems abundantly clear: Thailand has many years of turbulence and upheaval in front of it, and foreigners could easily be caught in the middle.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Thai Army today warned Thais to keep an eye on people they saw who were wearing sunglasses or hats indoor, or carrying backpacks because they could be bombers. He said that such behavior was “weird” and Thais would not dress in such costumes. So let’s see, if the people that Thais are supposed to watch since they might be bombers can’t be Thais, they must be…uh, foreigners. Here we go, huh?
Most foreigners here already know to stay alert and be wary wherever we go and whatever we do. And we know that we are outsiders to be watched and not really welcome here. That said, we also know that in more than a few counties around the world, expatriates have had it a lot worse than we do. In those places, the most important aspect of expatriate life has always been to keep a bag packed and have a route to the airport all mapped out.
It appears, for us here, that way of life has now come to Thailand, too.