Thailand long was characterized as the land of smiles: a friendly people, warm climate, and informal atmosphere all beckoned backpackers and businessmen alike. But politics has become less hospitable in recent years.
Analysts say suspicion would inevitably on fall on enemies of the ruling junta beaten in the referendum or insurgents from Muslim-majority provinces in the south of the mostly Buddhist country.
A cartoonish dictator out of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera runs a not-so funny junta which jails opponents and suppresses free speech. The recent bombing of a popular Hindu shrine in Bangkok should act as the famed fire bell in the night.
As Thailand endures the second year of yet another coup, King Bhumibol Adulyadej is approaching the 70th year of his reign -- and his health is reputedly poor. In this Southeast Asian kingdom of 67 million, the question on everyone's mind is: When the music stops and the world's longest-serving monarch is gone, what -- or who -- will fill the void?
Thailand's best hope is genuine constitutional reform. Government power should be limited, especially to award economic favors. Federalism should rule, giving provinces more authority to serve communities at odds with the national government.
Thailand's capital has lost none of its frenetic motion or relaxed informality. But it is a bit quieter of late, with last year's demonstrators dispersed by the military. However, the junta, which took power in May, is not leaving.
Apart from passionate support for their national sports teams, hatred of government corruption and "crony capitalism" is one of the few issues that unite all social groups in developing countries.
Thailand is, or perhaps was, a leading member of ASEAN, but has become a poor example to follow.
Elite-middle class alliance is deceiving itself if it thinks the adoption of a constitution institutionalizing minority rule will be possible. For Thailand is no longer the Thailand of 20 years ago, where political conflicts were still largely conflicts among elites.
One thing that could make a difference would be if the tourists stopped coming, prompting the exchange rate, foreign exchange reserves, and stock market to fall substantially. Perhaps, if there was enough collective pain, the red and yellow shirts would determine that it is in everyone's interest to find common ground.