Thailand in Crisis: Civil Services Mentor Magazine - February 2014


The proximate cause for the latest wave of protests which has swept through Bangkok since October was the ruling party’s attempt to ram through legislative changes that would have benefited the former prime minister and deeply polarising figure of Thaksin Shinawatra. However, the demonstrations reflact a deep divide in Thai society according to class, region and ideology, a divide which has developed over the past half century as growth has centred on Bangkok while the rural north and east have been left behind.

What started the protests?

Demonstrations kicked off in November after Thailand’s lower house passed a controversial amnesty bill, which critics said could allow former leader Thaksin Shinawatra to return without serving time in jail. Mr Thaksin, one of the most polarising characters in Thai politics, was ousted in a military coup in 2006. He now lives in self-imposed exile overseas, but remains popular with many rural voters. The amnesty bill, which was proposed by his sister Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party, was eventually rejected by the Senate. However, anti-government protests have continued.

Who are the protesters?

The protesters are united by their opposition to Mr Thaksin, and their belief that he is still controlling the current Pheu Thai government. The demonstrations are being led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Thai deputy prime minister who resigned from the opposition Democrat Party to lead the rallies. The protesters tend to be urban and middle class voters. Around 100,000 rallied in Bangkok on 24 November, although turnout then dropped. The protests were largely peaceful for the first week but turned deadly when violence broke out near a pro-government red-shirt rally on 30 November. At least eight people have been killed since. There was a pause in the protests to mark the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Protesters, however, vowed to continue their demonstrations after the royal celebration and later returned to the streets, albeit in smaller numbers.

What do the protesters want?

The demonstrators surrounded and occupied government buildings in an attempt to disrupt the government and force Pheu Thai to step down.Mr Suthep and his supporters say they want to wipe out the “political machine of Thaksin” and install an unelected “people’s council” to pick the country’s leaders. They say the government “bought votes” in the last election through irresponsible spending pledges aimed at poor and rural areas.

What will happen next?

On 8 December, all opposition MPs in parliament resigned and it was announced that protesters would march to Government House, the prime minister’s office, the next day. In response; Ms Yingluck called a snap election for 2 February. Her Pheu Thai party commands significant support, especially with rural voters, and would be likely to win the polls. The opposition Democratic Party has since said it will boycott the election, and the protesters have being trying to disrupt electoral registration. They have pledged to occupy and shut down parts of Bangkok from 13 January.

On 8 January, meanwhile, Thailand’s anti-corruption body said it would charge more than 300 politicians - mostly from the ruling party - over an attempt to change the constitution and make the Senate fully elected. This move could ultimately lead to the lawmakers being banned from politics.

Rupa Jadhav

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