In the centre of Bangkok a really flash, exclusive shopping centre opened last week. Think of a top International brand name, and it’s there.
The day I went down to have a look at the new Ralph Lauren and Gucci outlets, a big group of anti-government protesters, led by alleged money launderer Suthep Thaugsuban, meandered past, blocking traffic and offending ear drums with whistles and ‘songs’.
It’s what I don’t really get about Bangkok at the moment. To the casual observer, the capital is booming. Construction is happening everywhere, people are spending money, the health system is first class – there seems very little reason for people to be unhappy.
Yet here they are, marching down the streets, blocking roads, thumping people who dare not respect their authority (of which they actually have none), demanding this Government, which has won every election since 2001, be removed.
And things are changing. Trade is slowing dramatically, tourists are staying away, and businesses are starting to do it tough. But it’s not because of anything the Government has or hasn’t done. It’s because the country has been paralysed now for more than six months by a bunch of people who refuse to embrace or respect democracy.
For a man accused of money laundering and murder, Suthep certainly seems to wield a lot of power. He obviously believes he is acting on behalf of the majority of Thais. But he won’t put that to the test by contesting an election.
Because it’s likely he would lose. At the moment, it’s the whole country that’s losing.