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.

Controversey Over 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. 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]

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]

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]

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."

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]

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. 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. +/

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.

Yingluck Calls for Elections as 200,000 Protestors Gather in Bangkok

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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]

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.

Last updated May 2014

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