Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thailand: Update--PM Yingluck Begs Protesters to Call Off Amnesty Bill Demonstrations

According to The Associated Press, Thailand’s prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 46, begged protesters Thursday (November 28) to call off sustained anti-government demonstrations and negotiate an end to the nation’s latest crisis. Yet, protesters marched instead to new targets, including the national police headquarters, where they cut power lines.

Yingluck Shinawatra issued the plea after she easily defeated a no-confidence vote pushed by her opponents, who are heavily outnumbered in Parliament but have taken to the streets in droves to demand not only her ouster, but changes that would make the country less democratic.
Protesters say they want to uproot the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, Yingluck’s brother, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 for alleged corruption and abuse of power. They also accuse the PM of being a puppet of her billionaire brother.

Suthep Thaugsuban, 64, who resigned as an opposition Democrat Party lawmaker to lead the protests, has insisted he will not negotiate.

The demonstrators, most of them sympathetic to the Democrat Party, have taken over or surrounded several ministry buildings, which Yingluck said failed to shut down the government, yet created the potential for violence.

COMMENT: Police spokesman Piya Uthayo said a total of about 15,000 protesters were grouped Thursday at about six locations in and around Bangkok, a significant rise the numbers of Thais prepared to go into the streets to protest.

Yingluck has been reluctant to use force to evict the protesters for fear of escalating the conflict and sparking bloodshed, which would harm investor confidence and the lucrative tourism industry.

Hordes of demonstrators marched to the police headquarters in the center of Bangkok where they cut the electrical lines to the compound. Helmeted riot police with shields remained holed up inside, but did nothing to stop them.

On Sunday, more than 100,000 people rallied in Bangkok against Yingluck’s government.

Suthep says his goal is to replace the government with a non-elected council — an apparent call for less democracy, not more. He says the change is necessary to uproot the Shinawatra political machine from Thai politics. Thaksin remains highly popular in rural areas, and parties allied with him have won every election since 2001.

Thaksin, who continues to live in Dubai to avoid a two-year jail term for a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated, is a highly polarizing figure in Thailand. An ill-advised bid by Yingluck’s ruling Pheu Thai party to push an amnesty law through Parliament that would have allowed his return sparked the latest wave of protests earlier this month.

Thaksin's adversaries, largely members of the urban middle class and elite, see him as a threat to democracy and their own privileges, and have fought back hard. 

After the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin, a new constitution was drafted to reduce his influence. Controversial judicial rulings removed two pro-Thaksin prime ministers, and army-backed parliamentary maneuvering allowed the Democrat Party to form a government.

Although Yingluck has prevailed in avoiding a "no confidence" vote, simply because she is soft-spoken and very unlike her influential older brother, this could quickly change if Suthep orchestrates street violence, which could push protests onto front pages around the world, creating an impression that Thailand is once again unstable.

The downside of this House of Cards is that Suthep is as much a "street fighter" as is Thaksin, the latter of whom may have a hard time mobilizing his rural loyalists into the streets of Bangkok.

My prediction is that Suthep will slowly turn up the heat, which will force Yingluck into restoring order, which could give Suthep the fight he is looking for. Time will soon reveal who has the best strategy.