NEW DELHI: Thailand’s biggest demonstrations since the military seized power in 2014 (the 12th successful coup since 1932) are because of political “frustration building up among the youth and millennials, King Maha Vajiralongkorn being seen as a pale shadow of his father Bhumibol Adulyadej and a contracting economy during the pandemic,” says Anil Wadhwa, India’s former Ambassador to the country. The protests won’t die down unless Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha can bring the economy back to its feet, the military allows further reforms to allow the people to choose the politicians they want and the King deals with the dissatisfaction over his “aloof, luxurious living” in comparison with his father, seen as “the benevolent monarch”. The ex-Secretary (East), in this conversation with StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi, gives a quick historical political primer of how one of the primary aims has been to keep former Prime Ministers Thaksin and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra from influencing events.
Protesters led by the ‘Free People’, a coalition of student groups, have now been joined by age groups. The youth, including schoolchildren, have been using Harry Potter as a theme for demonstrations and singing the Thai version of ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?’ from ‘Les Miserables’. The song was also the anthem of Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, which rocked the city for six months in 2019. Protesters have also made famous the three-finger salute from the ‘Hunger Games’ movies as a symbol of defiance.
Ambassador Wadhwa traces China’s growing influence in a country that “on paper tries to balance foreign policy with the U.S.”, wants countries like Australia, Japan and India to be “invested in the future” while it stays “in the centre of ASEAN”. Beijing is also “very interested in the Kra Thai canal, a 700-plus year proposal for a man-made waterway as an alternative to the Malacca Strait “especially in times of conflict”. He adds, “the controversy and dimension of the Kra isthmus project doesn’t die down”.
“Business goes on,” the ex-envoy says, as India and many countries have learned “to live with the cycles of coups and constitutional changes”. New Delhi has an excellent relationship with Bangkok, Ambassador Wadhwa concludes, with a large number of Indians living there, “great security cooperation, sharing of information, a number of extradition requests being met, and growing defence and trade ties”.