What on earth is going on in Thailand?

thai-flagsOnce again evergreen Thailand is making the news for all the wrong reasons. It’s regrettable and sad for all those who live here and love their home. But as always the rest of the country gets on with their lives, peacefully and in good spirits – all in contrast to the ire seen on the streets of Bangkok.

We can’t pretend nothing’s wrong, but if you’re planning to come here and teach you will likely experience the same old laid-back atmosphere out in the provinces. In Bangkok, where the lion’s share of the jobs are, there are periodic flare-ups that are inconvenient at most. But it’s worth keeping an eye on. Thailand has been through this before and, in a typical Thai way, bottles-up its frustrations then vents political anger periodically.

Without going into the long, bizarre, background of Thailand’s democracy growing pains, here is a brief background for the newcomer. It’s important to be aware of this since these squabbles have consumed the country’s politics for several years. It’s all part of growing up as a wannabe Asian Tiger where lots more money is now sloshing about and the political evolution can’t seem to keep up.

Thailand is one of the more successful and democratic countries of Southeast Asia, where its people are mostly free to say (and often do) as they please. People are given a long lease to protest on the streets, the media are free to report, the public have a blank cheque to do business without government interference (bar the occasional red tape). It has relatively low poverty for a developing country, with an above average per capita income and PPP by Asian standards.

The king and royal family are much loved and respected and central to the national pride, and the country has been a Constitutional Monarchy since 1932, though blighted by periodic coups over the years. The most recent was in 2006 which set off a series of disagreements over what sort of democracy the country ought to be. In early 2014 it has come to a head with demands for reform to the system.

In a nutshell, the provinces – which are mostly poor farmers and form the largest number – prefer the Peua Thai party and their populism. Unfortunately it’s come under the spell of the Shinawatra family who often forget Thailand is a country rather than a family business. Before long the Bangkok middle class get tired of the corruption and conspire to throw them out. All sorts of shenanigans and dirty tricks from both sides and their powerful, shady, backers add up to one unbelievable charade that is stranger than fiction. Consequently the country goes through a ‘groundhog day’ of election followed by protest.

The shutdown in Bangkok is an attempt by one side of the political divide to take ‘democracy’ offline while a new political structure is designed, free of vote buying and dominance of the winning party, with a review of the extent of power between the legislature, executive and judiciary. The army and the police are also noted for being partisan to one side and the other. The opposition have boycotted any further elections until this reform is carried out. The ruling party, for their part, believe they have a mandate from the people to ‘steer’ the reform agenda. No one can quite agree on a fair way forward. As always, our shameless politicians angle for personal advantages. Yes, we know it’s getting boring already.

Nobody is quite sure what happens next, since the only predictable thing about Thai politics, is its unpredictability. It’s likely to be drawn out for much of the year, with some hairy moments. The army are promising no coup this time. The business lobby is frantically trying to resolve things and get back to making money. Teachers are expected to show up in the classroom all the same and continue as normal. Thais are super-sensitive to anything violent or threatening and won’t tolerate a worsening situation.

Should you be doing a TEFL in Thailand this spring?

Yes, is the short answer, since many new job openings will appear before the start of the new school year in 2014. In Chiang Mai it’s quiet and ideal for study, the only thing to watch out for is the increasing number of Chinese tourists who are finding their way here for the charm.

While the political situation in Bangkok should be taken seriously, and monitored weekly, there is no need to cancel immediate plans. Avoiding Bangkok might be sensible, and its worth noting that travel advisories issued by local embassies generally take a ‘prudent’ line.

For an up-to-date and honest assessment feel free to email unitefl for advice. If we feel the situation has become untenable we will let you know. As is often the case, the media presents a somewhat ‘newspaper selling’ account of the situation. On the ground, the situation is normal.

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