Thailand. Shortly after the New Year, one of the army’s armaments was attacked and looted in southern Thailand. At the same time, 21 schools are on fire, probably as a distraction. According to CountryAAH, the total population in Thailand is 69,799,989 people in 2020. The government introduced martial law in the provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, all dominated by Muslims. After first blaming the violence on “bandits”, the government was soon forced to admit for the first time in decades that separatists have taken root in the southern provinces, where there has long been dissatisfaction among Muslims who felt financially disadvantaged. While the unrest continued, the government allocated 12 billion baht (just over SEK 2 billion) to a two-year investment in the southern provinces, of which 9 billion for economic and social development and the rest to strengthen the defense.
However, the crisis deepened in late April, when hundreds of suspected separatists were killed in a single day, of which 32 were killed when the army stormed a mosque. The fear of the mosque was criticized both by a state-appointed inquiry and by the Independent Human Rights Commission, which warned of increasing authoritarian tendencies of the state power. When 85 people were killed in connection with a demonstration, of which 78 were choked after being seized and trampled on trucks, separatists with a series of revenge attacks responded to targets associated with Buddhist state power.
In mid-November, King Bhumibol appeared to publicly appeal to the security forces for more moderation in the anti-turmoil interventions, which had demanded over 500 lives since the beginning of the year. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s method of violence was to release 120 million paper birds across the southern provinces as a gesture of peace.
During the year, at least twelve people in Thailand died of a bird flu virus called H5N1. Several deaths also occurred in other countries in the region, and the World Health Organization warned of a worldwide epidemic that could harvest tens of millions of lives. In July, the first, two kilometers long, subway line in the capital Bangkok was inaugurated after a construction cost of up to SEK 20 billion.
At least 5,000 people were killed when a tsunami, heavy tidal waves caused by an earthquake, struck across the southwestern coastal areas of Phang Nga, Phuket and Krabi provinces on December 26. A large part of those killed and injured were foreign tourists, not least Swedes, who celebrated Christmas in Thailand’s most popular holiday area. But at least 2,000 Burmese guest workers, who in many cases lacked work permits and insurance, are also believed to have been among the dead. Thailand’s chief meteorologist was relocated after reporting that he knew of the risk of a tsunami but failed to sound an alarm in order not to damage the tourism industry. However, the effective rescue work following the disaster aroused great respect and increased Thailand’s reputation in the outside world. Despite the devastation, which meant a personal tragedy for many private small businesses in the tourism industry.
Conflict in the south
A protracted conflict that had long been under control started in early 2004 in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. The area that formerly constituted the Malay Sultanate of Patani was annexed by the King of Siam (Thailand) in 1902, an annexation recognized by the Bowring Treaty between Siam and the United Kingdom in 1909. Around 80 percent of the population of the region are Malay Muslims and the discrimination of this people group has led to severe dissatisfaction with the central government of Bangkok and its local officials.
From January 2004, militant rebels have attacked a number of military posts, police stations, schools and other public buildings. The Thai government has been hard at the rebellion, especially during the massacres at the Krue Se Mosque in Pattani and in Narathiwat’s Tak Bai district in 2004. The region has been subject to a military decree with very strict restrictions since 2005. Thailand’s brutal handling of the uprising has cooled relations with the mainly Muslim neighboring countries Malaysia and Indonesia.
In 2013, for the first time, an official peace process was initiated between the Thai government and the BRN (Barisan Revolusi Nasional) rebel group, but developments have been slow and there is currently no prospect of a lasting solution to the conflict.
Between 2004 and 2016, more than 2,500 people have died in the conflict and the number of injured has exceeded 12,000.
Thailand marked King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 60 years on the throne with great celebrations in June 2006. The king gradually gained a distinctive role within a formal constitutional monarchy. His influence was great, also through the almost divine role that has always been attributed to the Thai monarchs.
The king passed away on October 13, 2016 after 70 years on the throne. Bhumibol had then struggled for many years with poor health. His son, Maha Vajiralongkorn, assumed the throne as Rama 10 of the Chakri dynasty.
Bargain and political turbulence
The military coup in September 2005 ushered in a long-standing political crisis with fierce, sometimes violent, confrontations between supporters and opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin himself has been in exile most of the time, but continued to play a major political role. The opponents, wearing yellow shirts, triggered massive waves of protest that helped topple two Thaksin-friendly governments.
The protest campaign reached its peak in November 2008 with the occupation of the two main airports at Bangkok – hundreds of thousands of tourists were thus stranded. Thaksin supporters in red shirts struck back. The violent riots led to a deeper national divide between the middle-class elite in the cities and the poor village population who still support Thaksin. The turmoil frightened tourists and investors and did a great deal of damage to the economy of what is being marketed as “the land of smiles”.
In May 2007, Thaksin Shinawatra and 110 leading members of his TRT party were convicted of voting in connection with the canceled parliamentary elections in April 2006. This led to the dissolution of the TRT and the exclusion from political activity for five years.