BEGINNING OF THE 2013 POLITICAL CRISIS IN THAILAND
In November 2013, after the ruling Pheu Thai Party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra attempted to pass an amnesty bill---that many saw as an attempt to bring back former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra—protests, sometimes violent, broke out. The opposition demanded that the Yingluck government resign and the Shinawatra family quit Thai politics. Following a mass resignation of opposition Mps in December Yingluck, dissolve parliament and called for new elections, in February 2014. [Source: Wikipedia]
Yingluck said: "At this stage, when there are many people opposed to the government from many groups, the best way is to give back the power to the Thai people and hold an election, so the Thai people will decide." Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was not satisfied. He said that the protests would continue till their demands were met, including the formation of an unelected "people's council."
Between the end of November 2013 when the protests against Prime Minister Yingluck turned violent and the beginning of the elections in February 2014, ten people were killed and at least 577 were injured.
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.
Thai Amnesty Bill Introduced That Would Allow Thaksin to Return to Thailand
In October 2013, an amnesty bill— initially limited to ordinary protesters charged over involvement in past street clashes — was suddenly expanded to include anyone investigated by agencies set up after the 2006 coup. In early November, Thailand's lower house of parliament passed the bill that critics said could allow the return of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. The
BBC reported: The amnesty applies to offences committed during the political turmoil after Mr Thaksin was ousted in a coup. The lower house passed the controversial bill in the middle of the night. The opposition Democrat Party warned that the passage of the bill would trigger street protests. It did not take part in the vote. The bill passed by 310 votes to 0. [Source: BBC November 1, 2013]
Advocates of the bill say it will draw a line under the political turmoil that resulted from the military coup in 2006 that removed Thaksin from power, leaving Thailand bitterly divided. But critics say the amnesty would allow human rights abuses to go unpunished. The opposition believes the bill is aimed at facilitating Mr Thaksin's return, without having to serve a jail sentence. The amnesty bill angered Thaksin’s opponents, who said it could whitewash crimes he allegedly committed in power. Some Thaksin supporters criticized the law for protecting opposition leaders who allowed the army to use live ammunition to disperse protesters in 2010 when their Democrat party held power. "We will continue our fighting in the street until the bill is aborted,” said Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut.”
Thaksin fled into exile to avoid serving a two-year prison term for corruption and abuse of power charges that stemmed from a military-appointed panel for helping his wife buy land from the government. He’s lived in self-imposed exile overseas, and has helped guide policy from abroad since Yingluck led the Pheu Thai party to victory in a 2011 election. [Source: Suttinee Yuvejwattana and Anuchit Nguyen, Bloomberg, November 11, 2013]
According to The Economist: The bill “is mainly cover for granting an amnesty to and restoring the confiscated fortunes of a single individual for whom the bill was originally crafted: Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister’s elder brother. He was ousted in a coup in 2006. In self-imposed exile since 2008, his shadow has hung heavily over Thai politics. When Ms Yingluck and her Pheu Thai Party won in a landslide in 2011, she promised to heal deep divisions following Thailand’s worst political violence in decades. Instead, her government has become ever more absorbed in attempts to get Mr Thaksin back without him having to serve the jail terms imposed on him for corruption and abuse of office. Ms Yingluck, indeed, has become merely Mr Thaksin’s proxy as he runs the country from Dubai. She has explored every avenue to get her brother back, including royal pardons, constitutional amendments and five other kinds of reconciliation bill. In forcing through this latest measure, the government badly misjudged the public mood and the strength of the forces arrayed against it. [Source: The Economist, November 9, 2013]
Protests After the Amnesty Bill Passes the Lower House
After the amnesty bill passed the lower house thousands of people joined separate anti-government rallies in Bangkok as the Senate took up and debated the amnesty legislation. Protests against the bill dramatically picked up on November 4, when thousands of largely middle class Bangkokians gathered sporting Thai flag paraphernalia and whistles. [Source: Reuters]
Bloomberg reported: “Deputy Police Chief Vorapong Chiewpreecha said that some demonstrators may use guns and bombs incite violence and blame it on the police. About 10,000 members of the pro-Thaksin Red Shirt movement gathered on Bangkok’s outskirts Nov. 10 to counter protests against the government, the Bangkok Post reported.” [Source: Suttinee Yuvejwattana and Anuchit Nguyen, Bloomberg, November 11, 2013]
Al-Jazeera reported: “Since it was passed by the lower house on November 1, the bill has set off daily demonstrations and raised fears of reviving political turmoil that has convulsed the country since Thaksin was toppled by a coup in 2006. The opposition Democrat Party has harnessed the growing anti-government sentiment. It was holding a anti-amnesty rally on Monday evening - before the expected vote by the senate - which it said could draw tens of thousands to the city's political centre, heightening fears of clashes with police. A Democrat lawmaker Akanat Promphan said the protesters would give the government a "deadline" of 6pm (11:00GMT) to kill the bill before taking further - as yet unspecified - actions. Thousands of police were deployed across Bangkok to keep the peace, including nearly 7,000 officers around the parliament and the prime minister's office. [Source: Al-Jazeera, November 11, 2013]
Thai Senate Rejects Amnesty Bill After a Week of Protests
In mid November 2013, Thailand’s Senate rejected the amnesty bill that would have provided amnesty for Thaksin. Senators voted 141-0 against the draft after more than 10 hours of debate. Bloomberg reported: “Thousands of people joined daily rallies throughout the Thai capital over the past week, arguing that the amnesty law would fail to heal social divisions if it also exonerated politicians including Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and soldiers and political leaders who oversaw a deadly crackdown on demonstrators in 2010. [Source: Suttinee Yuvejwattana and Anuchit Nguyen, Bloomberg, November 11, 2013]
Active opposition to the amnesty bill from former “red shirt” supporters of Thaksin played a part in sinking it.The Economist reported: “Some leaders and foot soldiers of the red-shirt movement are incensed that the bill will let off anyone accused of ordering killings during the crackdown by the police and army three years ago. The proposed impunity for other human-rights abuses and for corruption is also sweeping. The anti-corruption commission says the bill would kill off over 25,000 graft cases. Of these, about 400 cases involve senior politicians; another 670-odd are already at the indictment stage. To many poorer Thais, the bill is a charter for crooks” [Source: The Economist, November 9, 2013 ***]
Although the more-powerful lower house can legally pass legislation without senate approval after a 180-day wait, Yingluck and the government coalition parties have pledged that the bill will not be revived. Andrew R.C. Marshall and Jason Szep of Reuters wrote: “Faced with public outrage, Yingluck quickly ordered the bill to be pulled from the Senate. Her advisors now spin this as proof that she listens to the public and admits her mistakes, and shift the blame for the bill onto Puea Thai and its Mps. "As a political party, we didn't anticipate the very negative feedback from the public," Noppadon Pattama, a Puea Thai strategist who advises both Thaksin and Yingluck, told Reuters. [Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall and Jason Szep, Reuters, January 30, 2014]
Anti-Thaksin Protesters Gain Momentum after the Amnesty Bill Defeat
Andrew R.C. Marshall and Jason Szep of Reuters wrote: “The aborted bill provided Yingluck's long-dormant enemies with the ammunition they needed. On November 12, Suthep resigned from parliament along with eight other Democrat MPs. The protests began their evolution into an uprising against, first, the "Thaksin regime", and then Thailand's system of electoral democracy itself. [Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall and Jason Szep, Reuters, January 30, 2014]
"Once they were participating in the rallies against Thaksin, people who were against the bill became people against the system," the Puea Thai MP told Reuters. "They got their critical mass and snowball effect." Jatuporn Prompan, a UDD leader and senior Puea Thai member, said he could see that Suthep and other establishment figures had long been planning a fresh uprising. He warned party leaders that the amnesty bill was just the trigger they needed. "Suthep Thaugsuban and his team took two years to prepare for this to happen," Jatuporn Prompan, a leader of the UDD and senior Puea Thai member, told Reuters. "He was preparing with the support of a network of elite bureaucrats."
The protests unleashed by the aborted bill have added to a perfect storm of crisis for Yingluck, who has been a caretaker prime minister - with limited powers - since dissolving parliament on December 9 to call a snap election. Thailand's anti-corruption commission has launched an impeachment investigation into her role as head of a wasteful and opaque rice-pledging scheme. Farmers waiting payment under the multi-billion-dollar scheme are blocking provincial highways in protest.
Thousands of protesters occupied major intersections in an attempt to "shut down" Bangkok. Protesters wanted the election postponed until parliament is replaced by an unelected "people's council" to reform Thai politics. They also demand Yingluck's resignation and the exile of the entire Shinawatra clan. Yingluck refused to go and stood by the amnesty bill. "She sees it as: If you can forgive everyone, and everyone accepts that forgiveness, then you can reset everything and move on," he said. "Of course, it didn't turn out that way."
Yingluck Survives No Confidence Vote as Opposition Questions it Leader Suthep Thaugsuban
In late November 2013, Yingluck survived a no confidence vote. Reuters reported: Yingluck “easily survived a no-confidence vote amid the biggest anti-government protests since deadly political unrest three years ago. Yingluck needed more than half, or 246 votes, out of the 492 votes in the lower house to prevail in the no-confidence vote. She won 297 votes, with 134 votes against her. Her Puea Thai Party and coalition partners dominate the lower house with 299 seats and comfortably survived the three-day debate during which the opposition grilled Yingluck on a 3.5 billion baht ($108 million) water management scheme and financially troubled government rice intervention scheme. [Source: Reuters, November 27, 2013]
Suthep Thaugsuban, the firebrand politician who resigned from the opposition Democrat Party to lead the protests, says he won't stop until power is "in the people's hands." Todd Pitman of Associated Press wrote: “His plan sounds anything but democratic. He's calling for an unelected "people's council" to replace a government that won a landslide victory at the polls. And the way his supporters have gone about it has not been entirely peaceful. They have called for Yingluck's overthrow from the occupied halls of seized government offices. They burst through the gates of Thailand's army headquarters and urged the military to "take a stand." And since the weekend, they have tried to battle their way into the prime minister's office with slingshots and burning Molotov cocktails, and threatened to overrun television stations that do not broadcast their message. [Source: Todd Pitman, December 2, 2013]
According to the Washington Post Suthep has his own history of corruption scandals. A former deputy prime minister, Suthep, 64, also faces murder charges for green-lighting a deadly military crackdown on Thaksin supporters in 2010.
Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters wrote: “Suthep Thaungsuban has rejected talks and vowed to continue his campaign to "uproot Thaksinism". But his hardline tactics could be alienating moderate supporters, while his quirky political vision perplexes even his natural allies in the Democrat Party. Suthep's idea for a "people's parliament" to replace Yingluck's administration, for example, was rejected by Korn Chatikavanij, a senior Democrat member and former finance minister. "I have no idea what Suthep means by a 'people's parliament'," Korn told Reuters. "We think the best way to find a solution to all of this is for the government to resign and dissolve parliament." [Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall, Reuters, November 29, 2013 ^^]
At this stage Yingluck said she would not dissolve parliament and call a snap election. “While she appeared fraught at the end of the two-day confidence debate, the former business executive has since regained her trademark composure and seems determined to outlast the protests. Yingluck's confidence could derive in part from assiduously cultivated relations with the monarchy and the military, which, along with the courts, have intervened to break past political deadlocks.” ^^
Military and Monarchy Stand on the Sidelines as Protests Heat Up
"If there is no other choice, if we can't do this peacefully, I welcome military intervention," protester and retired farmer Satien Piankird told Reuters. Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters wrote: “This year, however, the military has remained aloof and shown no sign of wanting to leave barracks, even after 1,000 protesters broke into its Bangkok headquarters. The military might act if there is bloodshed between protesters and police, or if protesters cause widespread damage to property, says Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University's Centre for Southeast Asian Studies. "But it would be a limited intervention," he says. "The military would be dealing with a specific (security) issue rather coming out to side with anti-government forces to overthrow the Yingluck government." [Source: Andrew R.C. Marshall, Reuters, November 29, 2013 ^^]
“Retired farmer Satien and other protesters have called for King Bhumibol to appoint an interim government to replace Yingluck's. But the aging and widely revered monarch has not commented on the current unrest. He is at his seaside palace in Hua Hin, about 190 kilometers (118 miles) south of Bangkok, after a long spell in hospital in the capital. His son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, expressed concern about the political unrest and urged people to settle their differences peacefully. The appeal was issued through Bangkok police chief Kamronwit Thoopkrachang, a staunch Thaksin ally. ^^
“Yingluck has also been careful to maintain relations with the palace. In a highly symbolic meeting in August, Yingluck visited the Bangkok residence of retired General Prem Tinsulanonda on his 94th birthday. Prem, the president of the king's Privy Council, is accused by many Thaksin loyalists of masterminding the 2006 coup. Afterwards Prem urged the armed forces to support Yingluck. ^^
“More likely than a royal or military intervention is a legal challenge. Past decisions by Thailand's courts have ended the rule of two Thaksin-backed prime ministers and dissolved two previous incarnations of the Puea Thai Party. On November 20, the Constitutional Court ruled that government efforts to amend the constitution were illegal but stopped short of dissolving Puea Thai. But Yingluck and her party still face a threat from Thailand's usually slow-moving National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). It is considering a petition from protesters to investigate 312 MPs and senators for backing a constitutional amendment that would have changed the make-up of the Senate. The Constitutional Court said on November 20 that government plans to change the constitution were illegal, paving the way for the NACC to suspend 312 politicians and eviscerate Puea Thai. But any NACC decision to disband Yingluck's party could spark a confrontation with pro-Thaksin red shirts, tens of thousands of whom are gathering at a stadium in eastern Bangkok.” ^^
Anti-Thaksin Protesters Storm Army Headquarters and Take Over Government Offices
In late November 2013, anti-Thaksin protesters stormed the grounds of the national army headquarters, asking the military to support their increasingly aggressive campaign to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They also took over several government administration offices. Thanyarat Doksone and Jocelyn Gecker of Associated Press wrote: “ The army insisted it will not take sides in the dispute. In a letter addressed to the army chief, the protesters stopped short of calling for a coup but urged military leaders to "take a stand" in Thailand's spiraling political crisis and state which side they are on. The crowd of 1,200 people stayed on the sprawling lawn of the Royal Thai Army compound for two hours before filing out peacefully. Army commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha responded with a call for the protests to be democratic and law-abiding. "Don't try to make the army take sides because the army considers that all of us are fellow Thais, so the government, state authorities and people from every sector must jointly seek a peaceful solution as soon as possible," Prayuth said in a statement. [Source: Thanyarat Doksone and Jocelyn Gecker, Associated Press, November 29, 2013 *+*]
“Yingluck has proposed talks but the protesters have rejected them. The incursion on the army's turf was a bold act heavy with symbolism in a country that has experienced 18 successful or attempted military coups since the 1930s. Protest organizers told followers to seize all state ministries, state telecommunications agencies and other state enterprises, police headquarters and the zoo. The targets also include the prime minister's offices. In 2008, anti-Thaksin demonstrators occupied those offices for three months to back their demands that his allies step down. *+*
“For the past week, thousands of anti-government protesters have marched in Bangkok in a bid to unseat Yingluck, whom they accuse of serving as a proxy for her billionaire brother. Leaders of the protests say their goal is not just to force Yingluck out of office but to rid the country of Thaksin's influence in politics. Protesters branched out to several spots, Friday, with another crowd staging a rally outside the headquarters of Yingluck's ruling Pheu Thai party, where hundreds of riot police stood guard to prevent them from entering. A separate crowd of more than 1,000 people marched through central Bangkok to the U.S. Embassy. Opposition lawmaker Korn Chatikavanij, a former finance minister, delivered a letter to an official there denouncing Yingluck's leadership as illegitimate, in response to a statement from Washington that expressed concern about the protests. *+*
“Explaining how a crowd of unarmed civilians was able to break into the army compound, Gen. Prayuth said: "The army did not want to use any force and we didn't view the protesters as enemies or opponents. They are actually Thais who have different political opinions." But he added, "In any case, security measures will be tightened from now on." The army compound is next to the United Nations' Asia-Pacific headquarters in Bangkok. *+*
“Yingluck has been reluctant to use force against the opposition-led protesters for fear of escalating the crisis and sparking bloodshed. Security forces have done little to stop protesters who have spent the week seizing government buildings and camping out at several of them in an effort to force a government shutdown while asking civil servants to join their rally. Crowd sizes peaked a few days earlier at over 100,000 and then dwindled days to tens of thousands, but organizers have kept each day dramatic by targeting new and different seats of power. Crowds of protesters have occupied the Finance Ministry and others have remained holed up at a sprawling government complex that houses the Department of Special Investigation, the country's equivalent of the FBI. Demonstrators also cut power at Bangkok's police headquarters and asked police to join their side.” *+*
Long-running Societal Divide Fuels Thai Conflict
Todd Pitman of Associated Press wrote: “The unrest that has brought the capital to the brink of catastrophe this week has laid bare a societal schism pitting the majority rural poor against an urban-based elite establishment. It is a divide that has led to upheaval several times in recent years, sometimes death, even though the man at the center of it, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has not set foot in Thailand since 2008. Thaksin is despised by millions who consider him to be a corrupt threat to the traditional status quo, but supported by millions more who welcome the populist policies that benefit them. [Source: Todd Pitman, Associated Press, December 2, 2013 \+/]
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn's Institute of Security and International Studies, said the two sides "believe in different versions of democracy." "It is a fight for the soul of the nation, for the future of the country," he said. One side wants "to be heard" while the protesters "want the kind of legitimacy that stems from moral authority. Their feeling is ... if the elected majority represents the will of the corrupt, it's not going to work." \+/
The Democrats, who have not won a national election in more than 20 years, were soundly beaten by Pheu Thai and Yingluck in 2011. Protesters claim her ascent was only made possible with Thaksin money. "You can't call this a democracy," said Sombat Benjasirimongkol, a demonstrator who stood outside a police compound this week. "This government is a dictatorship that came to power by buying votes. Yingluck's supporters are poor. They are uneducated. And they are easily bought." \+/
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies, said such claims form a pretext that Thaksin's opponents are using in an attempt to seize power. The anti-government protest movement is simply "a minority that is refusing to play the game of electoral politics. They cannot compete with Thaksin, they cannot win elections. So they come up with this discourse of village people being so uneducated they don't know how to vote," Pavin said. "But the reality is, these people (Thaksin supporters) are not stupid. They are politically conscious. They have become awakened." \+/
Even if the Shinawatra clan can claim electoral legitimacy, the conflict between the two sides is not black and white. Thaksin, a billionaire who made his fortune in telecommunications during Thailand's late 80s-early 90s boom years, was accused of manipulating government policies to benefit his business empire. His critics charged he was arrogant and intolerant of the press; at one point he went so far as to have cronies try to buy controlling shares in two influential daily newspapers that had criticized him. During his five years in office, Thaksin also came under fire for ham-fisted handling of a Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand, and a particularly brutal "war on drugs" that left 2,300 people dead in 2003. Human rights groups complained police were turned loose to kill drug dealers and users at will. \+/
Nevertheless, Thaksin remains hugely popular in Thailand's rural north and northeast and among many of Bangkok's working class for populist polices including subsidized housing and nearly free health care. Opponents dismiss Yingluck as Thaksin's puppet, though for most of her administration she has trod a more careful path than her brother, building a fragile detente with the army and managing to keep a lid on the nation's divisions. But she was damaged by the amnesty bill, by a court ruling rejecting her party's attempts to boost its power in the Senate, and by controversial policies including a rice-buying scheme that the International Monetary Fund has criticized. \+/
Suthep told The Associated Press that his supporters "feel that if the country continues on this path, it will fall into pieces. ... So they come out today to fight for their country and for their children's future." Thailand's political tensions have played out against a backdrop over fears about the future of its monarchy. Thaksin's critics have accused him of disrespecting ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej and trying to gain influence with Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the heir to the throne. \+/
Three People are Killed as Protesters Clash with Red Shirts and Attempt 'People's Coup'
In early December 2103, Todd Pitman of Associated Press wrote: “The conflict escalated dramatically and blood spilled for the first time. At least three people were killed when anti-government demonstrators clashed with pro-Thaksin "red shirt" activists near a stadium where a pro-government rally was being held. Outside Yingluck's office at the now heavily fortified Government House, masked mobs launched repeated bids to storm rings of concrete barriers. The police used force there for the first time, unleashing volleys of rubber bullets and tear gas. [Source: Todd Pitman, Associated Press, December 2, 2013]
The worst violence occurred when a group of protesters opened fire at a pro-government rally, killing at least four people and injuring dozens more. Around 70,000 supporters of PM Yingluck had gathered in the Ramkamhaeng area of Bangkok.
Simon Roughneen and Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Riot police fired tear gas at anti-government protesters armed with petrol bombs trying to force their way into the prime minister’s complex and police headquarters, intensifying Thailand’s political crisis and raising fears of extended instability in the Southeast Asian nation. For most part, protests remained peaceful. But on Saturday, the seventh day of protests, clashes between pro- and anti-government supporters turned violent around Ramkhamhaeng University, with at least three people killed overnight and dozens injured, according to police. Witnesses reported more shots the next day near the university and an adjoining stadium that’s been a base for government supporters. [Source: Simon Roughneen and Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2013 ==]
“We can't take any more of this corrupt government,” said Adi Ngo, a fifthysomething protester, as demonstrators nearby tried to breach concrete barriers and razor-wire-lined police barriers around Thailand's seat of government. “This government doesn’t obey the law.” Anti-government leaders declared "victory day" in what they’ve termed a “people's coup,” urging their supporters to take over 10 government offices, six television stations, police headquarters and the prime minister's offices in a bid to undermine the government. The protest movement, which fell well short of its "coup" objective, wants to overthrow the administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Sunday was the first day the police used significant force against demonstrators. “The use of tear gas is part of our procedures," said Piya Utayo, a national police spokesman, on television. ==
Protesters descended on at least three television networks calling on them to broadcast their views and not those of the government. A government-run station, Thai Public Broadcasting Service, continued with its regular programming even as it attempted to negotiate with protesters. Continued unrest has led foreign governments to issue travel advisories. Bangkok airports have also advised passengers to allow extra time when catching flights given protracted traffic jams. And several of Bangkok’s largest and poshest shopping centers were forced to close. The prime minister also reportedly fled a police compound and postponed a planned press conference when several dozen protesters attempted to get into her heavily guarded offices. Yingluck’s whereabouts were not immediately known. As she retreated from sight, her critics suggested this showed how weak she was. “The fact that Yingluck is nowhere to be seen is proof that she is now a lame duck Prime Minister,” anti-government protesters said in a tweet. ==
The day saw cat-and-mouse skirmishes between protesters and police in different parts of the city. At one such face-off near the ornate Marble Temple, police let off volleys of tear gas at demonstrators who had commandeered a police truck and were driving it provocatively in front of police lines. As tension mounted, protesters jeered at the police, calling them “lizards” and “buffalo,” with police responding in kind. Elsewhere, in front of police headquarters, demonstrators lambasted officers for their ties to Thaksin, a former policeman. Outside, someone had replaced the “royal” in the “Royal Thai Police Headquarters” plaque with “Thaksin,” suggesting the former prime minister and his sister weren’t fully loyal to the Thai King. As darkness fell, several government ministers advised Thais to stay off Bangkok streets until dawn to avoid trouble. ==
Thai Protesters Reach Prime Minister’s Office as King Appeals for Calm
A few days later Thai police removed fortified barriers blocking anti-government protesters from entering the prime minister’s office. And this juncture at least three people have died and 230 were injured in a week of protests. Reuters reported: “Police cleared the barbed wire barriers protecting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s office from the onslaught of anti-government protesters. Footage from Thai television showed the protesters milling around outside the Government House waving flags. Some of them even took their photograph with policemen. Prime Minister Yingluck was moved to a secret location after activists stormed the police sports club where she had been staying. [Source: Reuters, December 3, 2013]
“The Thai police’s change of strategy seeks to defuse rising tensions following a week of protests. City Police Chief Kamronvit Thoopkrachang told Reuters that riot officers have been ordered to stand down. "In every area where there has been confrontation, we have now ordered all police to withdraw. It is government policy to avoid confrontation," Kamronvit told Reuters. “Today, we won't use tear gas, no confrontation, we will let them in if they want.” Earlier police clashed with protestors attempting to break through the barricades to Government House. Officers used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to repel the activists, who threw rocks at police.” [Ibid]
Two days later, Thailand’s king used his annual birthday speech to call for stability but made no direct reference to the crisis. Grant Peck of Associated Press wrote: “Violence and street battles between anti-government protesters and police were put on hold as both sides observed a truce to mark the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Crowds dressed in the royal color of yellow lined the roads in the seaside town of Hua Hin to catch a glimpse of the world's longest reigning monarch. They shouted "Long live the king!" as his motorcade drove slowly to Klai Kangwon Palace, which literally means "Far From Worries." Onlookers wept as the king spoke, taking great effort and pausing for long stretches during his brief 5-minute speech. He thanked the people for coming together "in good will" to wish him well. [Source: Grant Peck, Associated Press, December 5, 2013 <^>]
"Our country has long experienced happiness because we have been united in performing our duties and working together for the good of the whole country," the king said. He wore a ceremonial golden robe and sat on a throne before an audience that included Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Cabinet ministers, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and his three sisters, and the leaders of the armed forces. "All Thais should consider this very much and focus on doing their duties ... which are the security and stability of the country," he said. Many people were hopeful the king would step in — as he has done in the past — to ease the current standoff, which results from years of enmity between supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. However, the king is a less vigorous figure than he used to be. His infrequent public appearances are poignant, since he is visibly infirm with age and uses a wheelchair. <^>
“After the speech, it was clear that the king's words had done little to heal the country's bitter divide. At Democracy Monument in Bangkok, one of the main anti-government rally sites, hundreds of people gathered to show respect for the king, but when images of Yingluck appeared on giant screens the crowd booed and many shouted obscenities. At the protest headquarters, the movement's leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, said the truce would end. "Today is a day that Thai people nationwide believe is an auspicious day," Suthep said after watching the king's speech. "Tomorrow the people's movement will continue to eradicate the Thaksin regime from Thailand." <^>
Yingluck Calls for Elections as 200,000 Protestors to End Deadly Thai Protest
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]
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. \*\
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 “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.
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.
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.
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.
Violence Continues after 2014 Elections
Violent protests continued after the February 2 elections. In late February Reuters reported: Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the target of anti-government protesters who have blocked parts of Bangkok for weeks, has left the city and is staying 150 kilometers away, her office said, without specifying the location. The protests, punctuated by occasional gunfire and bomb blasts, including one which killed a woman and a young brother and sister. [Source: Reuters, February 24, 2014]
Yingluck’s ability to combat the protests has been limited by a court ruling that removed her power to enforce a state of emergency imposed in late January. The Civil Court ruled Feb. 19 that the government couldn’t use measures allowed under a state of emergency to combat the protests, saying the demonstrations had been peaceful. The ruling came a day after five people were killed at a protest site in Bangkok’s historic district near Government House. Yingluck said the court’s decision compromised the government’s ability to maintain law and order. “No one respects the rules,” she told reporters today. “How can we make it peaceful? It’s time for us to talk and face each other.”
AFP reported: In “another legal setback to Yingluck, a Thai Civil Court ordered the government not to use force against peaceful protests, limiting the authorities' scope to deal with opposition rallies that have descended into violence on several occasions. Authorities announced they would swiftly appeal the decision, saying it has crippled their ability to keep order and uphold the law. "Protesters can lay seige to government offices and obstruct elections as the public has seen," Tarit Pengdith, of the agency in charge of the security response to the crisis, said in a televised address on Thursday. "That's not right," he said, adding their work "has been stopped" by the court ruling. [Source: AFP, February 20, 2014]
Sixteen people have been killed, both protesters and policemen, and hundreds injured in gunfire and grenade blasts linked to demonstrations. New York-based Human Rights Watch accused both sides of using live ammunition in clashes on Tuesday in Bangkok's historic district in which five people were killed and dozens wounded. "Excessive force by the police and violence by groups on both sides of the political divide needs to stop to prevent this situation from escalating out of control," HRW Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement. The government has said security forces used only rubber bullets and not live ammunition.
Four People Killed in Clashes Between Police and Anti-Government Protestors in Bangkok
In mid February, about two weeks after the election, gun battles broke out between Thai police and anti-government protesters, leaving four people dead and dozens wounded. Athit Perawongmetha and Damir Sagolj of Reuters wrote: “The clashes were some of most intense between protesters and security forces since the campaign to unseat Yingluck began in November. The military, which has said it would intervene if police are unable to control security in the capital, has not publicly commented on the violence. [Source: Athit Perawongmetha and Damir Sagolj, Reuters, February 18, 2014]
“Reuters witnesses heard gunfire and saw police firing weapons in the Phan Fa Bridge area in the old quarter of the city. Police said they had come under fire from a sniper on a rooftop and M-79 grenades were also fired. A policeman was killed by a gunshot and several were wounded by a grenade, security officials said. The Erawan Medical Centre, which monitors hospitals, said on its website that three protesters had also been killed by gunfire. The centre said 64 people had been wounded but did not say how many were police and how many were civilians. Police said they had arrested 183 people at two protest sites at the Energy Ministry, which had been cleared of protesters, and Phan Fa Bridge, and were detaining them for violating a state of emergency declared last month.
“Security officials said earlier that 15,000 officers were involved in the operation, "Peace for Bangkok Mission", to reclaim protest sites around central Bangkok's Government House and other government offices in the north of the capital. Yingluck has been forced to abandon her offices in Government House by the protesters, led by a former deputy premier, Suthep Thaugsuban, who have also blocked major intersections since mid-January. Suthep told supporters at an evening rally in Bangkok's central business district that protesters would gather outside Yingluck's temporary offices at a Defence Ministry facility in north Bangkok. "We are not afraid anymore. Tomorrow we will go to the Defence Ministry office... we will chase them (Yingluck and her ministers) out. No matter where Yingluck is, we will follow."
Trouble started with clouds of teargas near Government House and soon police were crouching behind riot shields as officers clashed with protesters. It was not clear who had fired the teargas and the authorities blamed protesters. By the afternoon, police had largely withdrawn from protest sites and the streets were quiet. There has been no move against the biggest protest sites in the city's commercial and shopping districts.
The fatalities brought to 15 the number of people killed in sporadic violence between protesters, security forces and government supporters since the demonstrations began. Hundreds have been hurt.
Thai Political Crisis Violence Spreads Beyond Bangkok
In late February 2014, Associated Press reported: “Gunmen in a pickup truck attacked an anti-government protest in Thailand’s east, killing at least one, an 8-year-old girl, and wounding dozens, as violence in the country’s three-month-old political crisis spread outside Bangkok, officials said. The attack took place Saturday night in Trat Province, about 300 kilometers east of Bangkok, where about 500 protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra were holding a rally near food stalls where people were dining. [Source: Associated Press, February 24, 2014]
Thai media reported that as many as three people were killed and several others are in critical condition, but National Security Council chief Lt. Gen. Paradorn Pattanathuabutr so far confirmed one fatality—an 8-year-old girl. Police Lt. Thanabhum Newanit said unidentified assailants in a pickup shot into the crowd and two explosive devices went off. It was not clear if the protest group, which uses armed guards, fought back. He and other officials said that about three dozen people were hurt.
Before the shooting in Trat violence had been mostly confined to Bangkok. The night before six people were hurt when unknown attackers threw a grenade into a protest crowd in Bangkok. Both sides in the ongoing political dispute have blamed the other for instigating violence. “At this point we do not know who was behind the attack, but there are several factors to take into account in the investigation,” Paradorn said. He added that the protesters in Trat have been rallying for a long time, “so they might have caused disturbance to others. And that area is controlled by groups that are affiliated with the anti-government side,” he said.
Thai Opposition Protesters to End Bangkok ‘Shutdown’
In early March 2014, anti-government protesters seeking to force the prime minister from office abandoned most of their rally sites in Bangkok, effectively ending their self-styled “shutdown” of Bangkok. AFP reported: The move follows increasingly frequent gunfire and grenade attacks targeting the protest sites, mostly at night. Attendance at the demonstrations has fallen sharply in recent weeks, with most sites nearly deserted for much of the day and a few thousand people joining the rallies in the evenings. [Source: AFP, March 1, 2014]
While the scaling back of the protests is a relief for the embattled premier, she also faces negligence charges linked to a flagship rice subsidy program that her critics say is riddled with corruption. If found guilty, she could be removed from office and face a five-year ban from politics.
The demonstrators have occupied several key intersections in the heart of the capital for more than a month, camping out alongside upscale shopping malls and luxury hotels. Civilian protest guards — many wearing body armor — have searched cars and pedestrians at roadblocks made from tires and sandbags, to the annoyance of some residents.
Tthe demonstrators consolidate into one base in Lumpini Park, their leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, announced on stage. He said the move aimed to ease traffic congestion caused by the rallies. “I feel for the Bangkok residents who joined hands to fight” alongside the protesters, Suthep said. But he said the struggle to topple the government and end the political domination of Yingluck’s billionaire family would go on. “I will speed up to reach the end game as soon as possible . . . within March,” Suthep said.
Violence linked to the rallies has left 23 people dead and hundreds wounded in recent weeks. Four children were among those killed in two grenade and gun attacks on opposition rallies in Bangkok and eastern Thailand last weekend, drawing widespread condemnation. The demonstrators have besieged a number of major state buildings, including the government headquarters, forcing Yingluck to work from various temporary offices. Yingluck indicated she would be ready to talk if protesters agree to end their rallies. The unrest has caused a drop in tourist arrivals to Bangkok — usually one of the world’s most visited cities — in a blow to the kingdom’s struggling economy.
Thai Democracy Threatened by the 2013-2014
Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post, “Thailand has long stood apart in Southeast Asia, never communist, never colonized, and it has developed a turbulent brand of democracy — one often interrupted by bloodless coups. But the latest turmoil is particularly worrying because Thailand’s revered king, long seen as a guarantor of relative order, now appears too old to intervene. The fear is not so much a coup but the division of the country. [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post, March 1, 2014 +++]
“There’s no mediator,” said Suphachai Jaismut, a deputy secretary general of a small Thai political party that has in the past formed coalitions both with Thaksin and his opponents. Suphachai nodded at a portrait of King Bhumiphol Adulyadej, 86, who has ruled for the past six decades. “It’s a street fight,” Suphachai said. +++
“That street fight has left the country paralyzed. Protesters say that Thaksin, in between rounds of golf, runs the country as a puppet master from his home in Dubai, using his sister — the current prime minister — as a proxy. So opposed are the protesters to Thaksin, they interfered with an election last month that would have presumably returned his sister to power. Until the election is completed — and there’s no guarantee it will be — the sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is a mere caretaker. She is unable to sign off on government projects. Thailand is without a legislature. +++
Thaksin avoids Thailand, where he faces a two-year jail sentence for graft, and instead trots around the world, often to Hong Kong and Cambodia. Suthep, the anti-government leader, said in an interview that government officials and police chiefs who want high-level appointments must pay a visit to Thaksin. “We have come to the point where we want to get rid of Al Capone,” said Kasit Piromya, a former Thai foreign minister and ambassador to the United States. +++
“At its height, the protest movement drew 200,000 people, but it dwindled in recent weeks amid the violence. In early March, protesters retreated from their blocked-off Bangkok intersections and assembled at a park normally filled with joggers and sunbathers. The protest movement “blocked seven intersections for several months, and it did not produce a result,” Somkiat Onwimon, a former member of Congress who has spoken at some of the protests, said Saturday. “So Suthep might have thought all this was going to be in vain.” +++
“The protests often had the trappings of a party — noisemakers, colorful T-shirts, free plates of curry — but demonstrators shared a sense of anxiety. They were bureaucrats, middle-class urbanites, even the wealthy, people used to having the ear of politicians. And now they feared they’d lost it. But the weary demonstrators say this is not just about losing privileges. Thailand squanders about 35 percent of its government spending on graft — more than twice what it did before Thaksin came to power, according to the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The country’s most important institutions, once weak but nonpartisan, have all taken sides, some packed with Thaksin loyalists, others full of traditional civil servants. The courts, for instance, tend to go against Thaksin. The police strongly support him; Thaksin was once an officer. +++
“For all their concerns about corruption and autocratic government, though, the protesters have managed to squander their international support. They have asked not just for the withdrawal of the amnesty bill but also the dissolution of an elected government. When Yingluck agreed to hold new elections, the protesters, knowing their favored Democratic Party couldn’t win, cordoned off polling stations. “There’s no moral high ground at all,” said Sunai Phasuk, a Bangkok-based senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. +++
“Thailand’s stalemate will probably be broken not with an uprising but rather a judicial decision that either paves the way for completing the elections or ousts Yingluck. Given the leanings of Thailand’s courts, Yingluck is vulnerable, facing a corruption probe for an ill-conceived rice-buying scheme. The violence could soar, Thais fear, when either side gains a clear upper hand. If Yingluck is forced from power, rural northerners could welcome her to that region as the rightful prime minister. “Should there be any coup, we should divide the country,” said Cherdchai Tontisirin, who represented the northern city of Khon Kaen in parliament until January. “We’re well prepared for that.” +++
Impeachment Proceedings Over Yingluck’s Rice Pledging Scheme
In January 2014,Thailand's anti-graft commission launched an impeachment investigation into Yingluck's role in her government’s rice subsidy program. Opponents say the multi-billion-dollar scheme is riddled with corruption and benefits landowners and local politicians more than poorer rice growers. If found guilty she could face a five-year ban from politics. It is unclear how long the commission will take to reach a conclusion. If the panel decides that Yingluck is guilty, the case will be referred to the partially elected upper house of parliament for an impeachment vote.
FoxNews.com reported: Yingluck “is facing new legal troubles after the National Anti-Corruption Commission announced that it had found grounds to investigate allegations that Yingluck was criminally negligent in her handling of what the government has described as a deal to export surplus rice to China. The commission has already determined that there are grounds to press charges against her former commerce minister and more than a dozen other officials. If found guilty, Yingluck would be forced to resign. Yingluck's supporters fear the move is part of a legal push by opponents to oust her. After her brother Thaksin was toppled in 2006, court rulings forced two other pro-Thaksin heads of government from power. [Source: FoxNews.com, Associated Press, January 17, 2014]
The rice pledging scheme is one of several populist policies the ruling Pheu Thai party campaigned on before winning the 2011 vote that brought Yingluck to office. Under the policy, the government buys rice at above-market prices from rice farmers, mostly in the north and northeast, and attempts to sell it to other countries. Critics say the government has been deliberately opaque in its transactions and warn the policy will bring the country to the brink of financial ruin.
"Although she knew that many people had warned about corruption in the scheme, she still continued with it. That shows her intention to cause losses to the government so we have unanimously agreed to charge her," Vicha Mahakhun, a member of the commission, said in a statement. Yingluck headed up the rice-policy committee but has said that she delegated many tasks to ministers. [Source: Athit Perawongmetha and Damir Sagolj, Reuters, February 18, 2014]
In mid February 2014, Yingluck protested her innocence after an anti-corruption panel filed charges of neglect of duty. AFP reported: “Yingluck questioned why the investigation by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) into an expensive rice subsidy scheme had apparently been fast-tracked."I reaffirm that I am innocent of the accusations by the NACC," Yingluck said on her official Facebook page. "Even though I am accused of criminal charges and face removal (from office), which were the wishes of people who want to overthrow the government, I am willing to cooperate to establish the facts," she added. [Source: AFP, February 20, 2014]
The NACC said Yingluck ignored warnings that the rice scheme was fostering corruption and causing financial losses. Yingluck urged the panel not to rush to deliver a ruling "which may be criticised by society as benefiting people who want to overthrow the government," noting that similar complaints against the previous administration were still under investigation. Her critics say the controversial scheme encouraged corruption, drained the public coffers and left the country with a mountain of unsold stock. They accuse her billionaire family of using taxpayers' money to buy the loyalty of rural voters through such populist policies. Yingluck said she was simply trying to improve the lives of farmers.
Prime Minister Yingluck skipped her anti-graft hearing in late February. AFP reported: Yingluck, who has protested her innocence, will not personally attend the appointment to acknowledge allegations linked to her government’s flagship rice farm subsidy scheme, her office said. “She assigned her lawyers to represent her,” Yingluck’s deputy secretary Thawat Boonfuang told AFP. Yingluck flew to her political stronghold in northern Thailand on Wednesday where she is expected to spend several days inspecting government-backed projects. The prime minister’s critics welcome the graft probe as a long-overdue attempt to hold the government to account, but to her supporters it is part of an attempted power grab.
“These are elaborate plans to overthrow the government without actually staging a physical coup,” said Verapat Pariyawong, a Harvard-educated lawyer and political commentator. Dozens of pro-Yingluck lawmakers in the Senate, the upper house, face possible political bans over a failed attempt to amend the constitution to make the Senate fully elected. Without a ruling party after protesters disrupted a February 2 election, a power vacuum could emerge, leaving the remaining unelected senators to appoint a new prime minister, according to legal experts.
While Thailand's anti-graft commission was launching it impeachment investigation into Yingluck's role in her government’s rice subsidy program, Hundreds of unpaid Thai rice farmers gathered around the temporary office of the prime minister, threatening to storm the building if the premier did not come out and address their concerns. Amy Sawitta Lefevre of Reuters wrote: “The escalation of the protest by farmers, who have not been paid for crops sold to the government under a state rice-buying scheme, came as thousands of demonstrators seeking to unseat the prime minister surrounded the government's headquarters. Live television pictures showed farmers climbing over barbed wire fences and barriers at the Defence Ministry compound in north Bangkok where Yingluck has set up temporary offices. They pushed back a line of riot police, who retreated from confrontation, but did not enter the building. [Source: Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Reuters, February 17, 2014]
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.
Last updated May 2014