Fractured Thailand: A once-stable nation is torn by political turmoil

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Unless one believes that the best government is no government, the situation in Thailand is close to catastrophic.

Against a backdrop of failed elections, disputed elections and a standoff between the elected government, political demonstrators and partisan courts, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and nine ministers were forced by a court to resign last week, leaving the country to be governed by an interim prime minister and civil servants.

The political faceoff in the Southeast Asian nation is between the so-called red shirts and yellow shirts. The red shirts are for the most part rural supporters of the Shinawatra family, led by Yingluck’s exiled billionaire brother, Thaksin. Every time in recent years that Thailand has had elections, the red shirts in the form of his Pheu Thai party have won. This outcome is unacceptable to the yellow shirts, who are for the most part urban, based in Bangkok and, to a degree, more modern in their outlook. They are attached to Thailand’s monarchy, led by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is ailing and declining to exercise his remaining authority to restore order.

In the past, faced with political disorder, Thailand’s armed forces have sometimes intervened, imposing military rule until the country’s civilian politicians work out a reasonable status quo for governing. This time they have let the political parties, Pheu Thai and the Democrats, mill around fruitlessly, without stepping in to up-end the country’s ostensible democracy. The next key moment is elections scheduled for July 20.

One can argue that Thailand’s internal political situation does not matter much to the United States. At the same time, its 67 million people cannot go without government for long, and Thailand has been a linchpin of reason and stability in a region of much economic and political interest to America, which is now pivoting its concentration to Asia.

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