THAI ELECTION IN 2014 AND VIOLENCE AND EFFORTS TO THWART IT

YINGLUCK CALLS FOR ELECTIONS AS 200,000 PROTESTORS DEMAND HER OUSTER

In mid December 2013, after the “People’s Coup” protests, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament and called for fresh elections—in early February 2014—as more than 200,000 protesters converged on Government House in Bangkok to push for her ouster. “The government doesn’t want the country and the Thai people to suffer more losses,” Yingluck said in a speech broadcast on state television. “Returning power to voters is in line with the parliamentary democracy. We want all of you to see the importance of the election.” [Source: Anuchit Nguyen and Supunnabul Suwannakij, Bloomberg, December 9, 2013]

Protest leaders said Yingluck’s move won’t halt their push to install an unelected council to help rid Thailand of the political influence of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, whose allies have won every election since his ouster in a 2006 coup. “Yingluck and her ministers are still acting and have the power.” Satit Wonghnongtaey, one of the group’s leaders, told supporters at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, according to a live broadcast on Bluesky Television, which is affiliated with the opposition Democrat party. “We want the government to quit their acting posts and form a parliament of the people.”

Opposition lawmakers quit parliament en masse to join the protests, and may decline to contest an election that must be held within 45 to 60 days, according to Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University. A military-appointed court disbanded Thaksin’s party for violating election laws after the Democrats boycotted a national poll in 2006. “The Democrats have used this ploy before and can use it again,” Chambers said in a phone interview with Bloomberg Television. “They can say ‘look, we just won’t participate in the election’ and basically run democracy into the ground.”

Suthep Thaugsuban, the former Democrat party lawmaker who is leading the protests, said demonstrators would stay overnight at Government House. The police estimated the crowd at about 205,000 as of 3 p.m. “I skipped school to join the rally,” said Tewarat Supunnjam, 17, as he joined people marching though Bangkok’s biggest shopping district. “This government violated people’s trust over the amnesty bill and constitutional changes. It’s also mismanaged economic policies.”The demonstrators accuse parties linked to Thaksin of vote-buying and Yingluck’s administration of corruption and economic mismanagement. They have called for an appointed committee of “good people” to implement political reforms before handing power to a new, elected government.

Three days later Reuters reported: “A small group of Thai anti-govt protesters climbed over the walls into the grounds of the prime minister's office but quickly left after they moved aside internal barricades, a Reuters reporter said. The protesters said they wanted the police to withdraw from Government House. Riot police in the area held their positions and there was no confrontation. The protesters left after a few minutes. [Source: Reuters, December 12, 2013]

As of March 2014, violence linked to the protest left 23 people dead—several of them children–and hundreds wounded. Most of the casualties were the result of sporadic shootings, bombings and grenade attacks that occurred as protesters, security forces and government supporters clashed and faced down one another.

Tension After Oppositions Aims to Set Up Parallel Government After Yingluck Calls for Elections

Todd Pitman of Associated Press wrote: “Protesters waging a surreal political fight to oust Thailand's elected prime minister are trying to establish what amounts to a parallel government — one complete with "security volunteers" to replace the police, a foreign policy of their own and a central committee that has already begun issuing audacious orders. Among the most brazen: a demand Tuesday that caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra be prosecuted for "insurrection," and another calling on the public to "closely monitor" her family's movements. [Source: Todd Pitman, Associated Press, December 10, 2013 \*\]

“Leading academics have slammed the scheme as undemocratic and unconstitutional. Critics have called its leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, delusional. But the ex-lawmaker's bid to seize power is backed by many in Bangkok and could become reality if the military or the judiciary intervenes, as they have in the past. Analysts say this Southeast Asian nation is at a dangerous new crossroads that could drag on, and end with more bloodshed. "This is a combustible situation. We cannot have two governments in Bangkok running Thailand," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn's Institute of Security and International Studies. "Something will have to give." \*\

“Yingluck is desperate to end weeks of political unrest that has killed five people and wounded nearly 300 more. On Monday, she dissolved the lower house of Parliament and called for elections, now set for February 2. But neither move defused the crisis, and a 150,000-strong crowd pressed on with a massive march against her in Bangkok. Yingluck said she would not resign despite a nighttime deadline issued by Suthep. But there was no hiding the nation's precarious state. Asked how she was holding up, tears welled in Yingluck's eyes. "I have retreated as far as I can," she said, just before turning and walking quickly away. \*\

“The protesters accuse Yingluck's government of abuse of power and say her party has used its electoral majority to impose its will on a minority. They say Yingluck is merely a proxy for her billionaire brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction but still wields immense influence from abroad. Thaksin was deposed in a 2006 army coup that laid bare a deeper societal conflict. On one side are Thailand's largely urban upper and middle classes, who along with staunch royalists want to end the Shinawatra family's grip on power. On the other side are the rural poor, who back the Shinawatras because they benefited policies that have brought them everything from electricity to free healthcare. The coup triggered years of political upheaval and dramatic changes in government have underscored the power of Bangkok's elite. \*\

“Protesters say Pheu Thai lost its right to rule because of its support of the amnesty bill and other legislation they oppose. Yingluck and other members of her party say the constitution does not allow her to resign before elections are held — a ballot both sides know Pheu Thai would win. Suthep, the protest leader, said late Tuesday that as of now, "there is no government." He said his People's Democratic Reform Committee would nominate a new prime minister to fill the vacuum, although it has no legal authority to do so. The bespectacled 64-year-old career politician also ordered the head of police to order all his forces to return their posts within 12 hours and said soldiers should take responsibility for protecting government offices. \*\

“Government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi dismissed the threats, telling The Associated Press on Wednesday: "We confirm that we are still the government. We are still running the country and things are normal." Suthep had laid out other details of his plan. Citing a clause in the constitution stating that "the highest power is the sovereign power of the people," he claimed his movement was assuming some government functions and called on civil servants to report to it. He said a new constitution would be written that would ban populist policies, bar corruption convictions from being pardoned and ensure that "a single party cannot control things." He also said the movement will "fully respect our sovereign obligations and maintain good relations with all states and international organizations." \*\

“The reality, for now, is that no parallel government exists, and that protesters hold less ground than they did before. Ahead of a large march, they withdrew from the Finance Ministry and part of a vast government complex they had occupied for a week. Still, Thitinan said, the momentum is on the side of Suthep, whose uprising has already triggered the legislature's dissolution and reduced Yingluck's power. The government is "at a disadvantage because they're not backed by the establishment and the powerful people in Bangkok," Thitinan said. The army has vowed neutrality, but when push comes to shove, they will side with the protesters, he said. Thitinan said Suthep is "a front man for larger forces behind him, for the powers that be" among the elite. He said they want to "seize the reins of government because they want to preside over the transition ... we're talking about the monarchy, the succession, the constitution, the entire future of Thailand." Thitinan added, however, that if Yingluck is deposed, her supporters "will come back to the streets" just as they did in 2010, when pro-Thaksin "red shirt" protesters erected bamboo barricades around a vast swath of the capital's glitziest shopping district and occupied it for two months. \*\

Violent Anti-Election Campaigns Before the Thai Election in 2014

The principal opposition party, the Democrat Party, decided to boycott the election. In response, Yingluck said the election would go ahead as planned. In late December 2013 the Election Commission held a session at the Thai-Japanese Stadium in Bangkok in which parties participating in the election were allocated their positions on the ballot papers for the national election of members from party lists. A crowd of "several thousand" protesters from a group called Network of Students and People for Reform of Thailand attempted to disrupt the registration process by forcing their way into the stadium. A truck was driven at the gates in an attempt to break them down. Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon. The violence escalated with firearms being used on both sides. A police Sergeant-Major was shot in the chest and died in hospital. A protester was wounded and later died in hospital. Despite this attempt at disruption, the registration of candidates went ahead, although Election Commission staff had to be evacuated by helicopter when the process was concluded. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Following these events, the president of the Election Commission, Supachai Somcharoen, called for the election to be postponed. "It is not hard to predict that the election will not be smooth, fair and transparent under the current circumstances." In response, Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanchana said: "There is no clause in the charter or any other law which authorizes the government to postpone the election date." The Bangkok Post suggested that the Election Commissioners might resign if the government did not postpone the election, or they might postpone it on their own authority, despite lacking legal authority to do so. +

In southern Thailand demonstrators prevented candidate registration in 28 constituencies for four successive days. By 31 December, no candidate registrations had taken place in the six southern provinces of Chumpon, Krabi, Phattalung, Songkhla, Surat Thani and Trang. Registration was also partly prevented in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phuket provinces. All these areas are strongholds of the Democrat Party. Under the Thai Constitution, the House of Representatives cannot sit unless the Election Commission has certified the election of a member for at least 95 percent of the 375 constituencies. If no candidates are registered for the southern provinces, this requirement will not be met and the new House of Representatives will be unable to meet. The Pheu Thai Party has requested the Election Commission to extend the deadline for candidate registration. The Asian Wall Street Journal suggested that the opposition was "openly begging for another military coup." +

“In early January 2014, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) announced that it would charge 308 members of the outgoing House of Representatives and Senate with "misconduct." The basis of the charge is that these members voted for legislation to change the Senate from a partly elected to a fully elected chamber. The Constitutional Court ruled that this legislation violated section 68 of the 2007 Constitution. Section 68 prohibits an attempt to undermine the "democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State" or to acquire the administrative power by constitutional means, and empowers the Constitutional Court to stop such attempt, to dissolve any political party guilty of it and to disfranchise the executives of the dissolved party for five years. The NACC claimed that since the legislation was found to be unconstitutional, those who voted for it were guilty of misconduct. +

Thai Protesters Try to Block Election Sign-up

In late December 2013, Jocelyn Gecker and Jinda Wedel of Associated Press wrote: “Anti-government protesters determined to unseat Thailand's prime minister surrounded a Bangkok sports stadium in an unsuccessful attempt to block political parties from registering for February elections. The attempted blockade comes after the main opposition Democrat Party said it will boycott the vote, which Yingluck's ruling party would likely win. [Source: Jocelyn Gecker and Jinda Wedel, Associated Press, December 23, 2013]

Officials from Yingluck’s party and eight others managed to sign up for the election by slipping into the stadium in the middle of the night, despite the presence of some protesters who had camped out overnight, the state Election Commission said. "We were aware that protesters would be blocking all entrances, so we went into the stadium at 4 a.m. while they were sleeping," said Prompong Nopparit, spokesman of the ruling Pheu Thai party. "Despite all this, the elections will continue as planned on Feb. 2." With registration continuing for two weeks, the protesters have vowed to continue their blockade.

Bluesky Channel, a web and satellite television station that serves as the voice of the protest movement, showed a protest leader asking followers to guard all the gates to the stadium night as well because representatives of the ruling party had managed to "sneak in" the night before. More than two dozen other parties were able to begin the registration process at a nearby police station, where they filed complaints saying they were unable to access the main venue because of the blockade, the commission said. Hundreds of protesters tried to seal off the police station, too, and then tried to block representatives of several political parties from leaving.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has mobilized huge crowds in Bangkok in the past few weeks, including more than 100,000 people in a march that blocked traffic and shut down major intersections around the capital. In a fiery speech he promised to continue mass rallies and blockades until they achieve their goal. "Because Yingluck clings to her prime minister's seat, we must come out to chase her," Suthep told supporters. "We will keep chasing her until she is dead or until she leaves." He declared that if the election still goes ahead on Feb. 2, "We will shut down the entire country and no one will vote." Yingluck insists the polls will take place. Her party signaled its confidence in a victory by placing her at the top of its party list Monday, indicating she remains their choice for prime minister after elections.

Thai Pm Unveils Reform Plan but Protesters Still Threaten Poll

Two days after attempts by the opposition to block the 2014 election began in earnest, Prime Minister Yingluck unveiled a plan to create an independent reform council to try to appease opponents. Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat of Reuters wrote: “The proposal, which comes after weeks of anti-government protests that have rallied more than 200,000 people at their peak, could be put into play soon and would be free of government interference, Yingluck said in a televised address. Her compromise offer was immediately rejected by the protesters. [Source: Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat. Reuters, December 25, 2013]

Yingluck's plan calls for a council of 499 eminent Thais, chosen by a wider group of 2,000, to examine reform of Thailand's political system. It looks similar to the unelected "people's council" protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has proposed to replace the government, with one crucial difference. Under Yingluck's proposal, the reform council would operate alongside an elected government, not an appointed one. "This council is not the government agency ... it would let it run on its own and would not be overshadowed or influenced by the government," Yingluck said. "I insist that the new elected government will take this and implement what the council decides on how to reform the nation."

Tavorn Seniem, a protest leader, dismissed Yingluck's proposal and said Thaksin would try to stuff the 499-member council with his own people. "This council would work for the benefit of the government's side, not for all Thai people," he told Reuters. Yingluck has been out meeting supporters in the north and northeast. She has refused to postpone the poll.

One Police Officer Killed, More than 100 People Wounded as Police Clashes with Protesters

On December 26, Al-Jazeera reported: A Thai police officer has been killed and scores of people wounded in clashes between security forces and opposition protesters in Bangkok, as the government rejected a call from the election commission to postpone February polls. At least 119 people were injured during running battles between anti-government protesters, calling for the government to resign and postpone the polls, and the police, according to the emergency services. [Source: Al-Jazeera, December 26, 2013]

The clashes are the first violent incident in almost two weeks of daily demonstrations. "He was shot in his chest and brought to hospital by helicopter," Jongjet Aoajenpong, director of the Police General Hospital, said of the slain police officer. "A team of doctors tried to resuscitate him for more than half an hour." Violence broke out as demonstrators tried to force their way into a sports stadium in the Thai capital, where representatives of about 30 political parties were gathered to register for parliamentary elections. Scores of demonstrators, some armed with sling shots, threw rocks and attempted to break through police lines prompting the police to use rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons. Inside the stadium the lot-drawing process was apparently unaffected by the unrest outside the gates.

However, some election officials later left the stadium by helicopter to avoid the unrest and because protesters were blocking the exits. The election commission said in a statement that it was urging the government to consider "postponing the elections", citing the security situation. "We cannot organise free and fair elections under the constitution in the current circumstances," commission member Prawit Rattanapien said at a news conference. Government officials later rejected the call to postpone the polls. "The February 2 election will go ahead," said Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana in a televised address. "There is no law allowing the government to delay the election."

The clashes are the first violent incident in almost two weeks of daily demonstrations. "Protesters are not peaceful and unarmed as they claimed," Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said in a televised address on Thursday. "They are intimidating officials and trespassing in government buildings." Police have not tried to arrest the ringleader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who is demanding the country be led by an unelected council until reforms can be implemented. Protesters were on the way to the Yingluck's residence to continue their demonstration, where about 500 police officers have been stationed.

One Protester Killed by Gunman in New Thai Political Violence

Two days later, gunmen killed an anti-government activist and wounded two others in Bangkok while protesters elsewhere blocked candidates from registering for upcoming elections. Chris Brummitt of Associated Press wrote: “The registration for the Feb. 2 polls was suspended in four of the country's 76 provinces. All four were southern provinces where the demonstrators, who are seeking to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, enjoy support. The events followed comments Friday by the powerful army chief in which he declined to rule out the possibility of a coup in the country. [Source: Chris Brummitt, Associated Press, December 28, 2013]

“Protesters tried to overrun a Bangkok sports stadium where election candidates were gathering to draw lots for their positions on ballots. The attack early Saturday took place close to a protest camp in central Bangkok, according to a government-run medical center. It said a 31-year man was killed by gunfire and two others wounded in the attack, which occurred at around 3:30 a.m. Local media said unidentified gunmen opened fire on guards close to a protest camp before escaping into the night.

Hundreds of candidates Saturday were registering for the polls, but the process was stopped in four southern provinces because protesters blocked the venues and local election officials wanted to avoid violence, said Puchong Nutrawong, secretary general of Thailand's election commission. Registration continued in a fifth province — Surat Thani — despite protests there, he said. "Our policy is to avoid any confrontation," Puchong said.

Asked whether a military takeover was possible, army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said simply, "That door is neither open nor closed ... it will be determined by the situation." While ambiguous, his words were taken by some as warning that it might one day intervene. Some analysts have said the "residual strength" of the amnesty bill helps explain the coup-prone military's reluctance to intervene in the ensuing chaos.

Thai Protesters “Shutdown” Bangkok

In mid January 2014, Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters occupied parts of central Bangkok in an effort to “shutdown” the city. Amy Sawitta Lefevre of Reuters wrote: Police and soldiers maintained a low profile as the "Shutdown Bangkok" drive got under way in the city of about 12 million people. The mood was festive, with many protesters singing and dancing in the streets. Major intersections that normally teem with cars and trucks were blockaded, but trains and river ferries were operating, most shops were open and motorbikes plied the roads freely. "Don't ask me how long this occupation will last," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said in a speech to supporters carried by the movement's BlueSky television channel. "We will not stop until we win." [Source: Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Reuters, January 13, 2014]

“As the blockade began to bite, Yingluck invited the protest leaders and political parties to a meeting to discuss an Election Commision proposal to postpone the vote, according to a senior aide of the prime minister.But the protesters have rejected any election and want to install an appointed "people's council" to change the electoral system and bring in reforms to weaken Thaksin's sway. "This won't end easily, and the turnout today is impressive, so it seems this deadlock looks set to continue," said Sukum Nuansakul, a political analyst and former dean at Bangkok's Ramkhamhaeng University. "Suthep has said he won't negotiate with the government, yet the government said today it will try to invite all warring parties to the table. The protest group's aims to overhaul the political system in this country won't happen overnight. This could be just the beginning."

Shootings were reported overnight near a government administrative complex that protesters began to blockade late on Sunday and at the headquarters of the opposition Democrat Party, which has thrown in its lot with the protest movement. Pro-Thaksin groups started rallies in several provincial regions but are steering clear of Bangkok for now. Suthep has said he would call off the protests if, as some fear, civil war threatened to break out. The government deployed 10,000 police to maintain law and order, along with 8,000 soldiers at government offices. "We don't want confrontation with the protesters ... In some places we will let them into government buildings," Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said.

In Lumpini Park in central Bangkok, protesters had erected hundreds of closely packed, brand new tents in anticipation of what could be a long stand-off. As the first day of the shutdown drew to a close, a crowd of several thousand - including farmers from the south and workers from nearby office buildings - gathered near a stage to hear speeches and jeer at Yingluck's government.

As the light faded, the carnival atmosphere was tempered by apprehension that provocateurs could attack the camp, said Thanat Thanakitamnuay, a Maserati-driving protest leader who is the grandson of a former deputy prime minister. "We expect a few home-made bombs or rounds fired at us but we don't expect any serious injuries, or injuries at all," he said, before adding, laughing: "I'm just being optimistic." "As soon as the situation gets out of hand, the army will step in," he said. Rumors of a coup are rife. The military has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of on-off democracy, although it has tried to stay neutral this time and army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has publicly refused to take sides.

Thai Protesters Target Government Buildings

A day later, thousands of Thai opposition protesters marched on government buildings as part of their "shutdown" of Bangkok with the aim of closing them down. AFP reported: “Demonstrators stopped officials from going to work at several key ministries in an attempt to intensify pressure on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The protesters, led by a former opposition MP, want Yingluck to resign to make way for an unelected "people's council" that would oversee reforms to curb the political dominance of her billionaire family. [Source: AFP, January 14, 2014]

Several thousand demonstrators gathered outside the Thai customs department to prevent staff from going to work, according to AFP reporters at the scene. "This is not democracy. It is autocracy... it is a one-man rule," said rally leader Satish Sehgal, railing at former premier Thaksin's alleged stranglehold on the nation's politics. "There's massive, rampant corruption in this country. Nepotism. Our objective is to try and get rid of all this."

Demonstrators also surrounded the ministries of commerce, labour and information and communications technology. It is a tactic they have deployed several times during the months-long protests, which have so far failed in their goal of forcing Yingluck from office. Many key junctions remained blocked in the Thai capital with loudspeakers broadcasting bombastic speeches into the city air after protesters launched the shutdown the day before, causing widespread disruption to Bangkok's central retail and hotel districts. But the number of demonstrators on the streets appeared to have declined as some returned to work.

A hardcore faction of the movement has threatened to besiege the stock exchange and even air traffic control if Yingluck does not step down within days. Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul insisted that the government was still functioning. He said the shutdown was expected to last about one week, urging protest leaders to join talks to find a way out of the crisis. The government was assessing whether it was possible to delay the election under existing laws as proposed by the Election Commission, he added, explaining "the doors are not shut" on that option. So far the shutdown itself has been peaceful.

The government has not tried to stop the protests, despite warnings that they could take a heavy toll on the economy and local businesses if they drag on. In a small side street close to the siege of the customs department, some people bemoaned the damage to their livelihoods caused by the shutdown and expressed support for the embattled government. "Thaksin helps us. Before he was in government he was already rich," said Supin Nonpayom, a cleaner at a bus terminal, expressing confidence that the Shinawatras are not corrupt. "They give money to the elderly. They help every group have a better life."

Associated Press reported: “Suthep, the protest leader, called on supporters this week to shut down all government offices and cut water and electricity to the private residences of Yingluck and her Cabinet "in the next two or three days." He also threatened to "detain" Yingluck, saying: "if they are still being obstinate, then we will capture them one by one because the people are not interested in fighting for years." Suthep has taken to the protest stage nearly every day for weeks, and has become known for hyperbolic rhetoric that few outside his movement take seriously. In late November, he urged supporters to seize "every ministry" and called on civil servants to report to him. But the calls were ignored and protesters were too few in number and only managed to briefly occupy several government offices and the Finance Ministry.” [Source: Associated Press, January 15, 2014]

Yingluck Says Election Will Go Ahead Despite New Violence and Protests

A day after that Yingluck said that elections due in less than three weeks would go ahead despite intense pressure by her opponents to postpone the vote. Associated Press reported: “The vow came after an overnight shooting attack on anti-government protesters in Bangkok wounded two people and ratcheted up tensions in the country's deepening political crisis. Yingluck Shinawatra offered to meet with rivals to discuss an Election Commission proposal to delay the February 2 ballot. But protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban and the opposition Democrat Party refused to take part, saying reform to get rid of corruption in politics must happen first. Yingluck told reporters after a meeting with members of her Cabinet, registered candidates and a top electoral official that there was no legal way for the Election Commission to delay it. "The rights of the people are important," said Yingluck, who a day earlier rejected calls by demonstrators to resign. [Source: Associated Press, January 15, 2014]

There are also growing fears of violence. Although most of Bangkok remains unaffected by the latest wave of rallies that have blocked key roads and overpasses in some parts of the city, gunshots rang out overnight on a street leading to one of the capital's glitziest shopping districts, which has been occupied by camping demonstrators. Bangkok's emergency services office said one man was hit in the ankle and a woman was hit in the arm in the shooting.

Sompong Pongsattha, a 56-year-old resident who witnessed the attack in the Pathumwan district, said about 30 gunshots were fired from an unknown location toward a protest barricade over the course of about two hours. He said only a few demonstrators were there at the time, and the wounded woman had to be carried to another intersection to be taken to a hospital. In another incident overnight, a small explosive device was hurled into a residential compound owned by former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, shattering windows and slightly damaging a roof, according to Police Col. Chumpol Phumphuang and Abhisit's opposition Democrat Party. No injuries were reported, and Abhisit — who resigned from Parliament last month to join protesters — was not home at the time. In the west of the city, several people poured gasoline on a tour bus that had been used by protesters, setting it ablaze, according to Police Col. Napol Kladkhempetch.

Dozens Hurt after Explosion Hits Protesters in Bangkok

Two days after Yingluck said that eleDozens of people were wounded in Bangkok when a grenade was hurled at anti-government demonstrators marching through Bangkok at midday. FoxNews.com reported: “Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was in the procession but was not wounded when the explosive device was thrown into a truck driven by demonstrators that was several dozen meters (yards) ahead, spokesman Akanat Promphan said. The city's emergency services center put the number of injured at 31. Police said the grenade was hurled from a nearby building. [Source: FoxNews.com, Associated Press, January 17, 2014]

Overnight, two motorcycle-riding men drove past the residence of Bangkok Gov. Sukhumbhand Paribatra and hurled a grenade inside, according to police Col. Samarn Rodkamnerd. Sukhumbhand, who is member of the Democrat Party which is backing the protesters, was not home and no injuries or serious damage were reported. The attack was similar to another grenade attack on the home of Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former Democrat prime minister whose party lost to Yingluck's in a 2011 vote.

Thailand Imposes State of Emergency over Unrest

In late January 2014, the Thai government has imposed a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok, and the surrounding provinces, to cope with unrest. The BBC reported: “The state of emergency was announced comes after a spate of attacks with explosives and firearms on the anti-government protesters blockading central Bangkok. The decree gives the government wide-ranging powers to deal with disorder. [Source: BBC, January 21, 2014]

"The cabinet decided to invoke the emergency decree to take care of the situation and to enforce the law," Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said. The emergency decree gives the government power to censor the media, ban public gatherings and detain suspects without charge. It also allows for curfews and for parts of Bangkok to be declared off-limits.

The Thai government has been contemplating a state of emergency for weeks, but in practice, it is not clear how many of those powers it will be able to use. Emergency rule is supposed to be administered by the police and the army, but the police have until now been told to avoid any confrontation with the protesters, and military commanders have made it clear they do not want to be drawn into the increasingly bitter conflict between the government and its opponents, our correspondent says.

Ms Yingluck said the police, not the military, would mainly be used to maintain control under the decree. "We will use peaceful negotiations with the protesters in line with international standards... We have told the police to stick with international standards, to be patient with the protesters," she told reporters. Labour Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who will oversee the decree's implementation, said Thailand would abide by international standards. "We will not use force. We have no policy to disperse them [the protesters] and we haven't announced a curfew yet," he said.

Addressing supporters in Bangkok, the leader of the protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, questioned whether the state of emergency was justified. "Is it right for them to use the emergency decree to declare a state of emergency to come and deal with us? Come and get us. We are not afraid of you." The decree extends past the date of the general election. The official election commission has already expressed doubt over whether conditions are peaceful enough for the vote to go ahead. Imposing emergency rule casts yet more doubt over the poll - yet the government, which is now acting in a caretaker capacity, insists there is no legal alternative, our correspondent adds.

Election Commission and Constitutional Court Decisions on the 2014 Thai Election

Due to violence and obstruction from the protests, the Election Commission said in January 2014 that it would either order the adjournment of the election or would request the government to do so. Supachai Somcharoen said the reason for doing so was the EC's failure to register candidates in the 28 southern constituencies. He also suggested that in the 22 constituencies in which only one candidate had registered, voter turnout might not reach the required minimum of 20 percent. He added that he feared further political violence. However, Prime Minister Yingluck argued that neither the government nor the commission is empowered to cancel or adjourn an election. Deputy Prime Minister Thepkanchana added that if the government adjourned the election, for any reason, beyond the 60-day legal timeframe, it could be taken to court for violating the constitution. [Source: Wikipedia]

Later in January, the Commission requested the Constitutional Court to decide if an election can be adjourned and who is the competent authority to do so. The court unanimously agreed to address the case. The court, by seven votes to one, ruled that the government and the election commission could jointly postpone the election. The government then offered to postpone the election with the caveat that there would be an agreement by all parties that the rescheduled election date would not be disrupted or boycotted.

Five days before the scheduled February 2 election, the Election Commission held a joint conference with the Council of Ministers and offered to delay the election for three or four months, but that if the government insisted that the election take place as originally scheduled, the Commission would seek assistance from the armed forces to ensure peace and order during the election. After the conference, the Commission stated that the election would take place as scheduled because most parts of the country were unhindered by disruption and the delay did not guarantee that unrest would cease. Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul accused the Commission of "playing tricks" to bring about a postponement of the election.

Thai Government Says No Delay in the February 2014 Election Amidst More Deadly Violence

Five days before the February 2 election, the government of Prime Minister Yingluck announced it will go ahead with the election despite an opposition boycott and threats of more protests and violence on top of deadly unrest that was occurring at the time. Thanyarat Doksone of Associated Press wrote: “The decision to hold Sunday's parliamentary balloting will further inflame tensions and chances of violence. A protest leader was killed and about a dozen others were injured in a clash as protesters swarmed dozens of polling stations to stop advance voting. [Source: Thanyarat Doksone, Associated Press, January 28, 2014]

Yingluck's supporters, including many people in the countryside who benefited from Thaksin's populist policies, are demanding that they be allowed to vote. "The longer this crisis goes on, the more dangerous it becomes," said Chris Baker, a Bangkok-based political analyst and writer. "The economy is clearly suffering already. It will suffer more the longer it goes on. The chances of violence keep increasing because emotions are getting stoked up."

Several hundred protesters laid siege to the meeting between Yingluck and the Election Commission. Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said more violence was likely during the polls and would further damage the country. "I think Thailand has suffered enough and no one should be hurt or die from this election," Somchai told reporters. Somchai earlier said he would tell Yingluck about the problems involved with Sunday's election, including a lack of manpower and equipment that has yet to reach many provinces. The disruptions have been caused by the protesters, and some senior government officials have accused the commission of supporting the anti-government side.

Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana said the commission and the government had different views and the election would therefore go ahead. "If we postpone the election, will the problems go away? The people who are causing trouble didn't say they would stop if it's postponed," Pongthep said. "The longer it is postponed, the more damage it will cause the people and the country."

Some protesters pushed their way onto the compound of the Army Club, where the meeting was held. They did not enter any buildings, which were guarded by police and soldiers. On the street outside, a shooting took place under murky circumstances. One man was hospitalized with a serious bullet wound in the stomach, Ramathibodi Hospital nurse Karn Chulaphan said. Another man, apparently an undercover policeman who reportedly wielded a gun, was savagely beaten by a mob of protesters. There was no word on his condition. The sequence of events was unclear. A statement posted on the Facebook page of the government's Center for Maintaining Peace and Order said a team of police investigators had been observing the protest when a group of protest guards attacked one of them and tried to snatch away his gun.

Yingluck Carries on Despite the Protests and Opposition to Her Rule

Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters wrote: “Six unmarked vehicles with pitch-black windows threaded quietly through Bangkok's northern suburbs on a recent afternoon. Inside one sat the curiously unruffled figure at the heart of Thailand's latest political maelstrom: caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Four months ago, police cars with wailing sirens would have whisked her through the city. That Yingluck's convoy is now so keen to avoid attention - it even stopped at some red lights - is a small victory for the thousands of protesters who first poured onto Bangkok's streets three months ago to try to topple her government. For them, Yingluck, 46, is the hated puppet of her billionaire elder brother Thaksin. For her supporters, however, Yingluck's low-key convoy shows the tactical brain of a former business executive who had proved surprisingly adept at negotiating Thailand's cut-throat politics until anti-government protests erupted in November.[Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall, Reuters, January 29, 2014]

Interviews with government officials, diplomats, relatives and the prime minister herself reveal a resolve that suggests Thailand's seemingly intractable and often violent eight-year political crisis could endure well past the election. The protesters have already forced Yingluck to abandon her central Bangkok offices and shuttle discreetly between desks at a half-empty military building and a heavily guarded air force base on the city's outskirts. Yingluck moved out of her Bangkok home after it was targeted by protesters. Uppermost in her mind, said advisors, was the safety of her nine-year-old son. But while opponents say she is on the defensive, up close she appears less a leader on the run than a player in a brutal game of attrition, quietly confident she can win any election.

Yingluck refuses to resign and sees herself bound by duty and by law to guide a troubled nation to its next election. "I stand for democracy not for politics," she told Reuters. "The people would like me to continue work. The election will be the final judge(ment) by the people of Thailand." "She's under unimaginable pressure, but she's coping very well," said Suranand Vejjajiva, Yingluck's chief of staff. "She feels she is elected by the people and has to protect their rights and liberties."

"Yingluck's diplomatic skills and personal charm have been invaluable assets in her efforts to restore and then maintain good relations with the military and other key actors," said McCargo, a professor of Southeast Asian politics at the University of Leeds. Yingluck insisted to Reuters that protest numbers were dwindling. "People see that the requests of the protesters are impossible under the (law) and constitution," she said. "That's why the number of supporters is getting less." In fact, protest numbers fluctuate, with a diehard few camping out in Bangkok's streets and parks. If re-elected, said Suranand, Yingluck will stay on for a year or more with a mandate to reform Thailand, before holding another general election. She is number one on Puea Thai's roster of party-list candidates and has no plans to leave politics. "The ballot box doesn't solve everything - and she knows that," he said. "But at least it's the right step."

2014 Thai Election

The Thai general election was held on February 2, 2014, more than a year early owing to Thailand's political crisis, but voting in many constituencies was held in March because of obstructions to voting created by the opposition. Voters elected a new House of Representatives, the lower house of the National Assembly. All 500 seats to the House of Representatives of Thailand were up for grabs. A total of 251 seats was needed for a majority Early general elections were held in early February. Voting was disrupted in 69 of 375 constituencies by the opposition that had called for a boycott. This made a re-run in several stages necessary.

About 49 million of the nation's 64 million people were eligible to cast ballots in February, and 2.16 million applied for early voting. Before the election there was increasing doubt that the main poll would go ahead as scheduled. Ruling party officials suggested said that they were willing to delay the ballot, but only if protests were terminated and the main opposition party abandoned its boycott. Yingluck's rivals refused to agree to such terms. however. [Source: Associated Press]

Disruptions of the election by the opposition casued voting to be canceled in nine provinces, mostly in the south and in and around Bangkok, where 488 of the capital's 6,600 polling stations were shut and several skirmishes broke out between protesters intent on disrupting the vote and frustrated would-be voters. The Election Commission said 11 percent of the polling station were closed, affecting more than 6 million registered voters.

After opposition attempts to annul the election were rejected, new polls in districts that were unable to vote because of disruption by opposition boycotts and protests were scheduled by the independent Election Commission to be held on April 20 and April 27 in those districts. However, the commission has yet to seek a way to hold voting for 28 electoral districts that haven't even been able to even register candidates because of opposition protests—the scenario that has left the country short of the 95 percent threshold of the total 500 seats required to seat a new Parliament.

The EC believes that it can hold new elections in the five provinces of Rayong, Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Petchaburi without difficulty. The EC’s Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said: “We are not quite sure if new elections could be successfully held in Prachuap Khiri Khan and Satun which have 222 and 300 polling stations, respectively."

The outcome of the vote will almost certainly be inconclusive. Because protesters blocked candidate registrations in some districts, parliament will not have enough members to convene. That means beleaguered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be unable to form a government or even pass a budget, and Thailand will be stuck in political limbo for months as by-elections are run in constituencies that were unable to vote.

Violence Breaks Out as Protesters Attempt to Block Early Voting Ahead of the 2014 Thai Election

Early voting for those unable to vote on February 2 began on January 26. There are an estimated 2 million registered early voters. In the southern provinces and in parts of Bangkok, demonstrators blocked access to polling places and prevented early voting from taking place. There were violent altercations at some polling places between demonstrators and people wishing to vote. One protest leader, Suthin Tharatin, was shot dead at a polling place in Bangkok during a confrontation with voters. Early voting took place without incident in the north, north-eastern and central regions (outside Bangkok) of Thailand. [Source: Wikipedia]

Associated Press reported: “Anti-government demonstrators swarmed dozens of polling stations in Thailand on Sunday to stop advance voting for next week's general elections, chaining gates shut, threatening voters and preventing hundreds of thousands of people from casting ballots. A protest faction leader was fatally shot in a confrontation near a voting center that also left 11 people wounded, the city's emergency services said, and isolated street brawls broke out in several parts of Bangkok. [Source: Associated Press January 26, 2014]

"It's a sad day for democracy when the right to vote ... is assaulted by a political movement that claims to be striving for reform and people's empowerment," Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said of the protesters. "Everything that happened today shows they are striving for the opposite." Sunai, who was also unable to vote, said that demonstrators forcefully intimidated would-be voters, and in at least one case attempted to strangle a man. Demonstrators were also targeted -- gunmen opened fire on a group attempting to block polling near a temple, killing faction leader Sutin Tharatin while he was giving a speech on the back of a truck.

Although most polling stations in Bangkok and many in the opposition stronghold in the south were forced to close, voting proceeded largely unhindered in the rest of the country. The country's electoral commission agrees with protesters that the poll should be delayed, but is legally mandated to ensure registered voters are able to cast ballots safely. During the early viting its members "just sat down and watched this thing collapse around them," Sunai said.

The commission is supposed to be neutral, but critics have accused its members of taking sides. Its top executive,Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, has posed for at least one smiling photo with demonstrators, and its officials failed to denounce a violent effort by protesters to disrupt candidate registration in December. The commission issued no public condemnation of attempts to derail voting. Analysts say that is because courts and the country's independent oversight agencies are largely aligned against the current government in collusion with the army, royalists and powerful businessmen. Somchai insisted he had requested security reinforcements for polling stations on Thursday, rebutting accusations by Labor Minister Chalerm Yubumrung that he had never asked for help, the Thairath newspaper reported. Chalerm heads a special command center set up to oversee security under a state of emergency decree announced last week.

The protest movement, known as the People's Democratic Reform Committee, had pledged not to obstruct Sunday's poll. Protest spokesman Akanat Promphan told The Associated Press that those who had locked the gates of polling stations had "acted on their own," but he did not criticize them and said the decision to close stations was made by Election Commission officials.

The protesters' effort, however, appeared to have been widely coordinated. Across Bangkok, demonstrators waving the Thai flag physically blocked electoral officials, ballot boxes and voters from getting inside polling centers. Some did vote -- one woman climbed over a padlocked gate to try to do so -- but officials ultimately shut polling stations in 83 of the nation's 375 constituencies, authorities said.

Suthida Sungkhapunthu, a 28-year-old office worker, said she turned back from one polling station after reading news of the day's mayhem on her phone. "I saw this coming but I'm still quite disappointed," she said, calling the protesters "undemocratic" as she watched a mob surrounding her polling station a block away. "It's my constitutional right" to vote, she said.

International Federation for Human Rights president Karim Lahidji also said protesters had gone too far. "Blocking citizens from exercising their voting rights is a serious violation of Thai laws and international human rights standards," he said. "The right to peaceful assembly must not infringe on the citizens' fundamental right to vote."

Election Day for the 2014 Thai General Elections

Despite fears of violence, voting proceeded peacefully in 90 percent of polling stations on election day in February 2, 2014. The day before the election there were reports of gunfights between supporters and opponents of the government in Lak Si District, in the northern suburbs of Bangkok. On election day, however, voting went ahead as scheduled, with no reports of violence. Voting was unable to take place in the south and in parts of Bangkok, however Prime Minister Yingluck was able to vote at a Bangkok polling place. Security officials said about 130,000 police had been deployed across Thailand, including 12,000 in Bangkok. "The situation overall is calm and we haven't received any reports of violence this morning," said National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabutr. The EC said that voting had been unable to proceed in 42 constituencies in the south and in Bangkok. [Source: Wikipedia]

Thanyarat Doksone of Associated Press wrote: “Protesters trying to derail Thailand's national elections forced the closure of hundreds of polling stations. Around the country, the vast majority of voting stations were open and polling proceeded relatively peacefully. Polling stations closed for the day with no reports of violent clashes, easing fears of bloodshed a day after gun battles in Bangkok left seven people wounded.The national focus was riveted to the capital where 488 of the capital's 6,600 polling stations were shut and several skirmishes broke out between protesters intent on disrupting the vote and frustrated would-be voters. The Election Commission said the closure of polls affected more than 6 million registered voters.

In some cases, protesters formed blockades to prevent voters from entering polling stations. Elsewhere, protesters blocked the delivery of ballots and other election materials, preventing voting stations from opening. The Election Commission said that hundreds of polling stations in the south, an opposition stronghold, faced similar problems. Angry voters at one Bangkok district stood outside of closed voting stations waving their identification cards and shouting "Election! Election!" "We have the right to vote. You don't have the right to take that away from us," said Sasikarn Wannachokechai, a 51-year-old Bangkok resident who said she had never missed a chance to vote. Official results were not expected for weeks, with final counting delayed until all districts have voted. Advance voting was thwarted in many districts and was rescheduled for late February.

"This is not a fair election," said Ampai Pittajit, 65, a retired civil servant helping to block ballot boxes in the Bangkok district of Ratchathewi. "I'm doing this because I want reforms before an election. I understand those who are saying this is violating their rights. But what about our rights to be heard?"

Fears of violence were high after a gun battle erupted Saturday at a busy Bangkok intersection between government supporters and protesters trying to block delivery of ballots. Under heavy police security, Yingluck cast her vote at a polling station in northeastern Bangkok, cheered on by supporters. "Today is an important day," she told reporters. "I would like to invite Thai people to come out and vote to uphold democracy."

Voting was not as easy in other parts of Bangkok. At one of the more volatile districts north of the capital, voters in Din Daeng scuffled with protesters and hurled bottles at each other under heavy police security. An Associated Press reporter saw a protester fire a gunshot after angry voters tried to push their way past a blockade. There were no injuries reported. Dozens of voters demanding their right to vote broke into the Din Daeng district office, which was unable to distribute ballots to the neighborhood's voting stations. "We want an election. We are Thais," said Narong Meephol, a 63-year-old Bangkok resident, waving his identification card. "We are here to exercise our rights." Elsewhere, one of Thailand's more colorful politicians Chuvit Kamolvisit, an independent candidate, got into a punching, knock-down brawl with a group of protesters. "They tried to attack me while I was trying to go vote," said Chuvit, a tycoon who made a fortune operating massage parlors before turning to politics as an anti-corruption campaigner.

Protesters Try to Annul 2014 Thai Vote, Step up Rallies

After the early February 2014 elections, anti-government protesters vowed to stage larger rallies in central Bangkok and go forward with efforts to nullify an election the did their best to disrupt. Thanyarat Doksone of Associated Press wrote: “After sabotaging the election process, the protesters and their allies said they will go to court to try to get the polls nullified on several grounds, including that they were not completed in one day. The opposition Democrat Party, which backs the protesters and boycotted the vote, said it is studying other legal justifications to invalidate the election as well. [Source: Thanyarat Doksone, Associated Press, February 3, 2014]

“The demonstrators have occupied major intersections in Bangkok and forced government ministries to shut down and work elsewhere. "We are not giving up the fight," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said. "Our mission is to keep shutting down government offices, so don't ask us to give those back." Suthep, a former opposition lawmaker, said the movement was closing two of its Bangkok protest sites to consolidate at five other locations for safety against attacks by government supporters. The move is bound to cause more disruption in central Bangkok, where protesters have shut major intersections in the Silom and Sukhumvit business districts and Ratchaprasong shopping district, where many of the city's upscale malls are located.” [Ibid]

In mid February a Thai court rejected the opposition’s bid to throw out elections. The Wall Street Journal reported: “Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government won a key victory in the struggle to form a new administration when the Constitutional Court rejected a bid by the opposition to annul the Feb. 2 election. The ruling cleared the way to hold new polls in districts that were unable to vote because of disruption by opposition boycotts and protests. The opposition Democrat Party's application to the court had maintained, among other things, that the election poll wasn't constitutional because voting wasn't conducted nationwide on the same day. The chief of the Democrat Party's legal team, Wiratana Kalayasri, said he "respects the court's opinion" but that he would petition the court again "should the government make any more mistakes.'' [Source: Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2014]

The court said it found no grounds to show the Feb. 2 poll could be violating the Constitution. However, Ms. Yingluck and her government still face a series of legal challenges, including an impeachment case against the embattled prime minister, for allegedly neglecting to prevent massive state losses in a multibillion-dollar rice subsidy.

After Election Day for the 2014 Thai General Elections

Protesters forced polling booths to close in Bangkok and southern Thailand, leaving some legislative seats unfilled. As a result, a series of special elections were required to complete the balloting. Election results were not announced until all areas successfully voted.

Counting of votes began immediately after the close of polling, but Thailand’s Election Commission (EC) said it would not be announcing results because of "problems," including the blocking of advance voting and the failure to hold voting in some constituencies. EC Chairman Supachai Somcharoen stated on Thai television: "Today, we cannot announce the overall results of the election”. [Source: Wikipedia]

According to the EC, the final turnout for the February 2 elections—counted from 68 provinces and excluding the nine provinces where voting was cancelled—was 47.72 per cent, or 20,530,359 voters (voting was closed prior to the 3 p.m. cut-off time in some areas of these provinces). The highest participation rate was in Chiang Mai, where 827,808 voters, or 75.05 per cent, participated from a total 1,103,069 eligible voters. Of the total ballots casted in Chiang Mai, 530,427, or 64.08 per cent, were valid; 129,983, or 15.7 per cent, were invalid; and 167,398, or 20.22 per cent, were vote-no ballot. For Bangkok Metropolis, a total of 1,133,296 voters, or 25.94 per cent, from a total of 4,369,120 eligible voters casted their votes—775,821, or 68.46 per cent, were valid; 90,923, or 8.02 per cent, were invalid; and 266,552, or 23.52 per cent, were vote-no ballots. The EC announced that as many as 20.1 million out of 43.024 million eligible voters submitted votes in 68 provinces where voting was not disrupted by protestors, with 71.38 percent of those ballots valid, 12.05 percent invalid and 16.57 percent "no-vote". The EC will discuss the 28 constituencies where candidates were prevented from registering prior to the polls due to protest actions and stated that it will consult with legal experts and advisors before arriving at a decision.

On February 4, 2014, the Democrat Party forwarded a request to the Constitutional Court to invalidate the election, in addition to the dissolution of the Pheu Thai Party and the disfranchisement of its executives. As part of their request, the Democrats identified the election an attempt of the government to acquire administrative power by unconstitutional means, in accordance with section 68 of the Constitution, the same section that the Democrats had successfully invoked to request the invalidation of the constitutional amendment in November 2013. Section 68 prohibits an attempt to undermine the "democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State", or to acquire administrative power by constitutional means, and empowers the Constitutional Court to stop such an attempt, to dissolve any political party guilty of it and to disfranchise the executives of the dissolved party for five years. The Pheu Thai Party filed a counter-request in response to the Democrat Party on 5 February, also seeking the dissolution and disfranchisement of its executives on the grounds of section 68. The Pheu Thai Party spokesperson said that the Democrat Party's request to invalidate the election is an attempt to topple the government outside the rule of democracy.

AFP reported: “Thailand's protest-plagued elections have ushered in a new chapter of political uncertainty that experts say leaves the embattled government increasingly vulnerable to court intervention or a military coup. Millions were denied the opportunity to cast ballots. Hundreds of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets again for a new protest march through the capital although their numbers were down sharply compared with before the election. [Source: AFP, February 3, 2014]

Yingluck's Labour Minister Chalerm Yubamrung predicted Monday that Puea Thai would claim at least 265 out of 500 seats in the lower house. Thailand-based scholar and author David Streckfuss said the opposition missed an opportunity to demonstrate the level of support for their campaign with a tally of 'no' votes.

Reuters reported: “Thai anti-government protesters who have been camped out in north Bangkok packed their tents and marched downtown as they consolidated efforts to topple Prime Minister Yingluck, a day after a disrupted general election. Some joined protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban on foot and others followed in cars and six-wheel trucks as Thailand's long-running political conflict showed no sign of ending. Others surrounded a government office in north Bangkok where Yingluck and two senior ministers had been holding a meeting and cut through a barbed-wire fence. They later dispersed. [Source: Reuters, February 3, 2014]

“The protesters closed camps at two of the seven big intersections that they have blockaded since mid-January, at Victory Monument and Lat Phrao, and headed for the fringes of the central oasis of Lumpini Park. A third camp run by an allied group at a big government administrative complex may also be closed. Suthep said that this was being done out of safety concerns, but it could also be because their numbers are dwindling. Reuters put the number of marchers at about 3,000. "Suthep's movement is now crumbling, but it still has powerful unseen backers," said Chris Baker, a historian and prominent Thailand scholar. Suthep's supporters on the route showed no sign of crumbling, waving flags and handing over money.” [Ibid]

First Key Protest Leader Arrested in Thailand

About a week after the election in February 2014, Associated Press reported: “Thai police made their first arrest of a senior leader of anti-government protests for violating the country's emergency law as government officials promised to apprehend other leaders of the movement, too. Police arrested Sonthiyarn Cheunruethainaitham, the former managing director of news company Tnews, known for its anti-government views, said Department of Special Investigation's director-general Tharit Pengdit. He described Sonthiyarn as "a chief-of-staff" for the movement and "second most important figure" after protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban. "We will continue arresting more protest leaders who have violated the law in the same way," Tharit said. Arrest warrants have been issued for 19 leaders of the anti-government protests on the charges of violating the special law and authorities were seeking the court's approval for 13 other leaders on the same charges. [Source: Associated Press, February 10, 2014]

The arrest happened just hours after six street cleaners were injured — two seriously — by a small explosion at a protest site in downtown Bangkok. Sonthiyarn was apprehended at a hotel in northern Bangkok and is being held for questioning at a border patrol police base in the capital's northern outskirts. Under the state of emergency,a suspect can be held for 30 days without being charged, but police must seek request for detention every seven days.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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