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Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej 86th birthday

Yellow shirt protesters in Bangkok.

The Thai political crisis

Okay, the crisis going on at our neighbour’s is a pretty complex, drawn-out issue that’s been simmering – and occasionally boiling over – for about eight years now. So it’s not something you can fully understand in a five-minute read, but here’s what you need to know to sound like you do.

What’s going on?

Tensions between the ruling Pheu Thai party and the main opposition Democrat Party, escalated again last November after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra proposed a controversial amnesty bill. The bill would have applied to offences committed during the deadly 2006 riots, but the opposition quickly noted that it would also apply to Pheu Thai party founder and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra – Yingluck’s brother – and clear him of crimes he committed while in power, enabling him to return from his self-imposed exile in Dubai.

What’s with the elections?

After another series of violent protests, Yingluck called off the amnesty bill early last November. But that wasn’t the end of it. Yingluck called for an election to “give back the power to the Thai people”, so they can decide once and for all and put an end to the protests. Well, that just made things worse. The opposition protested fiercely against the election, which they believed Yingluck’s party would almost certainly win due to its popularity in rural areas. There was talk of postponing the election, but Yingluck pushed through with it and it took place on Sunday.

Red or yellow?

Supporters on both sides of the political divide have been demonstrating vehemently. The “Red Shirts”, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, are in support of the government, while the “Yellow Shirts” from the People’s Alliance for Democracy support the opposition. Protests from both parties led to a reported 10 deaths even before the election.

Where does the King stand?

King Bhumibol Adulyadej is still deeply revered in Thailand, so much so that protests were largely suspended during his 86th birthday celebrations in early December. Bhumibol, however, has declined to take sides, simply asking the people to work towards peace and unity.

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