Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bangkok Airport Closed

Kat received a text message yesterday that her school would be closed in response to the closing of Bangkok International Airport by political demonstrations. The main road to her school is also the main thoroughfare from downtown to the airport. My school remains open, although there have been concerns voiced by staff.

It is an unusual event: The police seem unable to contain the mass of well-organized demonstrators, who want the government to dissolve (they charge that it is corrupt and bought the most recent election); the army is asking the Prime Minister to dissolve parliament, but he has refused. An interesting standoff, to say the least. Meanwhile, the world's 18th largest airport is virtually closed. Since tourism is such a large part of Thailand's financial base, the airport is a lifeline. An American arriving yesterday in the chaos of the airport complained that this shouldn't be happening on "one of America's most important holidays." I simply do not know how to respond to such provincialism voiced OUTSIDE of the U.S.

It may seem a bit curious to those who are from western democracies. How can a small group of people bring a government to a complete halt? Why is it allowed? When asked this question, I had to think about it for a while, but then realized that Thailand's democracy is unlike that of western systems, for non-political reasons. Being a parliamentary system makes it different in its stability than a system of separate legislative bodies such as in the U.S. Additionally, there is a history of cultural norms, the influence of the monarchy, the military's connection (or disconnection) to the ruling party and tolerance for corruption, as well as the growing number of people who want to change the system that is seen to be rife with unscrupulous dealings. In short, it's complicated. I am impressed with the restraint that has been shown so far. But who knows what tomorrow will bring? I know that the airport cannot remain closed indefinitely.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and cabinet have set up quarters in the northern city of Chiang Mai, in effect becoming a government in exile within its own borders. Rumor has it that another coup is imminent.

So far, our day to day activities have not been affected, although western embassies in Bangkok are cautioning citizens to stay away from any area that may be potentially dangerous.
We do not consider ourselves in any danger. We do wonder about the inconveniencing of friends who are planning to visit soon, as well as our plans to fly south in a week for a three day holiday weekend. Kat is a bit nervous about her flight to the U.S. later in the month, but there is no sense worrying at this point. We are not in control of the situation, so must wait and see how it pans out.

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