Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thailand: Protesters Endeavor to Shut Down Ministries, PM Yingluck May Find Herself "Under the Bus," Out of a Job

According to Reuters, thousands of Thai demonstrators marched on Wednesday (November 27) towards a government office complex they planned to shut down as part of efforts to cripple the government and oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 46.

Having forced the closure of five ministries in the past two days, some 4,000 protesters rallying against Yingluck and her influential brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, aimed to surround the complex in northern Bangkok while smaller groups readied to target six other ministries.

Demonstrations and street protests are a familiar reality in Thailand, which has seen eight years of on-and-off turmoil, from crippling street protests to controversial judicial rulings and military intervention, each time with Thaksin at the center of the disputes.

Unfortunately, demonstrations have been going on for weeks and are gaining momentum. In response to a rousing speech by protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, 64, screened on cable television late on Tuesday (November 26), demonstrators in ten southern provinces massed in front of government offices, according to police.

Despite fleeing into exile to dodge a jail sentence for abuse of power in 2008, billionaire former telecommunications mogul Thaksin has loomed large over Thai politics.

He won the support of the rural poor who voted him twice into office, in 2001 and 2005, before he was ousted in a 2006 military coup. His supporters remain fiercely loyal to him and the parties he backs.

His opponents are fewer in number, but hold considerable power and influence, among them wealthy conservatives, top generals, bureaucrats and royalists with sway over the urban middle class.
 
COMMENT: Many Thais see Thaksin as a corrupt, crony capitalist who manipulates the masses with populist handouts and is a threat to the monarchy, which he denies. 

Suthep led his group towards an office center containing important government agencies, including tax, revenue, immigration and land departments. It also houses the Supreme Court and headquarters of Thailand's Department of Special Investigation, its equivalent to the US FBI.

Another group of 1,000 protesters marched to the Labor Ministry and some splintered off towards the Energy Ministry.

The protests, though peaceful, have raised fears of a repeat of the sort of violence seen three years ago when more than 90 people were killed in a military crackdown on demonstrations by Thaksin's supporters.

The real potential loser in this house of cards is Prime Minister Yingluck herself. If she sides with her elder brother, Thaksin, who is disliked in major cities and is pushing for amnesty which would exonerate him of previous crimes, the opposition could well push for a "no-confidence" vote, although success is unlikely.

Yet, no matter how the various sides cross sabers in this game of cat-and-mouse, Yingluck, could potentially lose her position as PM even if she survives a "no-confidence" vote, as Thais will blame her for siding with her despised brother, which could be fatal. 

The anti-government campaign started last month after Yingluck's ruling Puea Thai Party tried to pass an amnesty bill that critics said was designed to absolve Thaksin of his 2008 conviction on corruption charges.

Thailand's Senate rejected the amnesty bill, but that did nothing to defuse the crisis.

In the days ahead, Yingluck may be put to the "test" in more ways that she can even contemplate, particularly if protesters turn violent and turn Thailand into a very unstable government once again, in which Yingluck could become a martyr for Thaksin, who is simply not worth the effort, no matter how much money he has. 

A large number of foreign embassies have warned their citizens to avoid all large-scale, potentially violent protests, as bystanders and curiosity-seekers are often injured, even killed.