Monday, December 9, 2013

Thailand: PM Dissolves Lower House of Parliament, Calls for Early Elections, Protests Continue

According to The Associated Press, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 46, seemingly desperate to defuse Thailand's deepening political crisis, Yingluck dissolved Parliament's lower house on Monday (December 9) and called for early elections, yet protesters persisted in wanting to topple her government given her older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, orchestrating political moves behind the scenes.

A decree from King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, scheduled early elections on February 2 and named Yingluck as interim prime minister until then. The protesters demanded that she resign as caretaker and rejected the election date, putting the strongly royalist movement at odds with the royal decree.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, 64, a former politician who resigned his position in Parliament to mobile protests against the Shinawatras, who now faces arrest on insurrection charges, spoke to more than 150,000 followers at a stage outside Yingluck's offices, challenging authorities to "Come get me!"

COMMENT: Suthep emphasized that a new prime minister and a non-elected "people's council," which has no basis in the Thai constitution, would work to end corruption in politics and keep Yingluck and her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from returning to power.

The opposition Democrat Party, allied with the protest movement, has been defeated by Thaksin loyalists in every election since 2001, and is unlikely to win the new polls.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, was toppled by a 2006 military coup that revealed a major rift between Thailand's elite and largely urban middle class on one side, and Thaksin's power base in the countryside on the other. That base benefited from his populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.

Yingluck announced the dissolution of Parliament in a televised speech that broke into regular programming.

"We have given the power back to the people to decide and have elections according to the democratic system under the King," she said, her voice shaking. "We'll let the people decide what path the majority wants to take, and Thailand will take that path to administering the country."

Although the armed forces has often stepped in in the past to stabilize a ruling government, it appears that the military is unwilling to act in this case, because the military is well aware that the Yingluck government is weak and that potentially there is a good chance of Thaksin returning to power.

Suthep spoke three times Monday night, calling for civil servants to side with the protesters rather than the government and urging citizens to set up their own neighborhood peacekeeping forces to take over from police. The protesters have castigated the police for being zealous defenders of the government.

Although Yingluck took office two years ago, Thailand was upended last month by an attempt by her party to pass a bill that would have granted amnesty to Thaksin and others. Thaksin fled overseas in 2008 to avoid a corruption conviction.

Yingluck's government was eventually forced to abandon the amnesty bill, yet massive crowds are now calling for the ouster of both Yingluck and Thaksin, in the hope of restoring order to Thailand.

The Democrat Party added to the political pressure on Sunday when its lawmakers resigned en masse. It held 153 of the 500 seats in the lower house.

Since the latest political unrest began last month, at least five people have been killed and at least 289 injured. Violence ended suddenly last week as both sides paused to celebrate the birthday of the king, who turned 86 last Thursday.

Tourists and business travelers to Bangkok should be cognizant that protesters in large groups as high as 150,000 people may potentially disrupt commerce in the capital, which is why I urge that tourism be deferred until well after the upcoming elections on February 2.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.