I'm back in Thailand (and yes, this is a realtime post). Most of you probably aren't aware of this: there's to be an election here on April 2nd. Allow me to explain (and take anything I say with a big grain of salt as I've hardly done any research) ... The country has a king, but like Great Britain, he's more of a figurehead than a real ruler. The power lies with the Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin (and/or his family) also happens to own the largest telecom company in the country, and, not surprisingly, it tends to do well because government policies tend to go its way. Strangely, he's been accused of using political influence for financial gain. In the past couple months there have been massive protests in Bangkok calling for his resignation. His support has always been rural, not urban. About a month ago, Thaksin called for an election on April 2nd. He's extremely astute political survivor, and this is a good move that should have satisfied the critics, but the protests have continued. Thaksin looks good whether he wins or loses: if he loses, he "did the right thing," and if he wins, obviously the people support him. But this leaves out another side of the story which further shows his political intelligence (and the shortsightedness of the protesters): there's no viable opposition. Thailand's democracy is about a decade old, and he and his party are all they've got. Thaksin has vowed to step down if he gets less than 50% of the vote. While I said "there's no viable opposition," he might fail to get that 50% because (if I understand this correctly) there's a "no vote" option on the ballot. Sounds a bit oxymoronic, but there you are. And what happens if Thaksin loses? Especially via the "no vote" option? Then there's no candidate stepping in to take his place, a political void that could cause chaos in the country. And if he wins, the protesters have vowed to continue protesting.
April 13th to 15th is Songkran, the Thai Lunar New Year. This is celebrated as a water festival, which means three days of water being hurled on the streets pretty much 24x7 - not a good thing when you carry your camera at all times, as I do. The protesters have promised a week without protests after the election, which means either they'll fire up again around the 8th or the country will be headed for political chaos without a president. Some friends of mine flies in to Bangkok on the 8th, and I want to stay until the 9th or 10th (but avoid Songkran) to at least have dinner with them. I suspect that a week or so after I leave the country Thailand is going to be a political mess, which makes me even happier I'll be getting out. Yes, the trip is winding down. And yes, this is a politically unstable region - not just Thailand, but pretty much all the countries I've visited.