Thailand update: Protesters plan to ‘shut down’ Bangkok Jan. 13

As expected, more protests are on the horizon here in Bangkok, with anti-government demonstrators continuing their efforts to topple the prime minister and derail elections scheduled for February 2.

There have been rallies in recent days, and protesters plan a city-wide “shutdown” on Monday, January 13.

Reuters reported yesterday:

Thailand is heading for a political showdown, with anti-government protesters aiming to sabotage an election by shutting down Bangkok next week, deepening a crisis that has divided the country and looks set to squeeze economic growth this year.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra faces swelling opposition in Bangkok ahead of the February 2 election in which her supporters in the rural north and northeast are expected to return her to power – if the vote can go ahead.

Thousands of demonstrators marched through Bangkok on Sunday as a prelude to rallies starting on January 13, when they plan to block government offices and occupy key intersections for days in a bid to force out Yingluck and scuttle the poll.

And said in a story today:

The authorities say 20,000 police, backed up by troops, will be deployed in the streets on Monday, the first day of the planned “shutdown”.

“We’re expecting large crowds on Monday and are concerned about the likelihood of violence … especially third parties trying to instigate violence,” National Security Council Chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr told Reuters.

And:

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has tried to keep the military above the fray but some recent comments have been ambiguous.

Asked by reporters about coup talk on Tuesday, he said: “Don’t be afraid of things that have not yet happened … but if they happen, do not be frightened. There are rumours like this every year.”

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Bangkok issued, via email, this message today. It mentions various parts of the city that may be targeted:

This is to advise U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Thailand that political activists have announced plans to resume marches and lunch time “whistleblowing” protest activities in Bangkok this week in preparation for simultaneous mass rallies at key intersections in Central Bangkok beginning on Monday, January 13th.

Currently, areas around the Democracy Monument and Government House are the main protest sites. Protest leaders say, however, that these stages will be dismantled and that protest sites will be dispersed to many different intersections spread throughout downtown Bangkok, including Asok, Lumpini, Ratchaprasong, and Silom intersections. Protests may also occur elsewhere in Thailand.

Elsewhere, The Nation says:

The Government Complex on Chaeng Wattana Road, one of the seven spots, will be blocked to bar civil servants from working.

Other rally sites will be the Lat Phrao intersection, which will be under the control of representatives of Rangsit and Kasetsart universities and joined by people from the north and northeast. The Victory Monument and Pathumwan intersection will be held by Chulalongkorn University, Lumpini Park by Silom business group, Asoke intersection by Srinakharinwirot University and the National Institute of Development Administration, and Ratchaprasong by Dr Seri Wongmontha and entertainment personalities.

And:

Suthep gave assurances that Suvarnabhumi airport and transport terminals would not be sealed off, and all public transportation services will operate as usual.

I may write more on this in the days ahead, or as events warrant, though I have posts planned on unrelated topics.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter for the latest.

Thailand update: 1 killed in clashes with police, EC urges election delay, Nattawut speaks

The AP reports:

Thailand’s election commission on Thursday urged the government to delay upcoming polls as clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters killed a police officer and injured nearly 100 people, adding to political turmoil threatening to tear apart the country.

The hours-long unrest took place outside a Bangkok sports stadium where election candidates were gathering to draw lots for their positions on the ballot. Protesters threw rocks as they tried to break into the building to halt the process, while police fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

There’s more from the WSJ, Bloomberg, the BBC, and Reuters.

Elsewhere, the WSJ’s Southeast Asia Real Time has a Q&A with Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikua:

WSJ: Both the Red Shirts and Mr. Suthep’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee claim to command mass support. Can the two sides avoid a conflict?

Mr. Nattawut: I will try my best to prevent a confrontation and protect a rules-based system. I think the Feb. 2 election could be the answer and help prevent conflict. But if Mr. Suthep prevents the election going ahead and succeeds in setting up a people’s assembly, it will be the last straw. It will drive our side onto the streets. We are always ready to talk with Mr. Suthep’s supporters, though. Our demands are for elections under the democratic system, but Mr. Suthep’s are not. If we can achieve that, then each person will get one vote. On the other hand, if Mr. Suthep succeeds, then nobody will have a vote because he took them all. Mr. Suthep’s victory would not be the people’s victory, but our victory is the real people’s victory because everybody will have the same rights and freedoms as everybody else.

Meanwhile, there’s this:

As ever, stay tuned.

In editorials, the WSJ and NYT criticize Thailand’s anti-government protesters

Those among Thailand’s anti-government demonstrators who care what foreigners think about their efforts to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra may want to avert their eyes from editorials that ran in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times on Monday.

In a piece with the headline “Thailand’s Disloyal Opposition,” The WSJ said:

Faced with almost certain defeat at the polls, the Democrats have decided to pursue power by making the country ungovernable. Such behavior is the definition of a disloyal opposition, and the protesters use the word “insurrection” to define their movement. While they pay lip service to reforming the democratic system, at other times they demand that the monarchy install a new leader and that democracy give way to rule by the elite.

And:

So far the pro-Thaksin rural population has remained relatively quiet, but they are seething with anger. They are capable of mobilizing far bigger protests to defend their elected representatives should that become necessary.

And finally:

The Democrats’ claims to represent the will of the people, but their leaders are bent on returning to power with or without the support of a majority. With such an opposition, Thailand’s democracy will continue to suffer.

Meanwhile, The NYT noted:

Mr. Suthep and his followers — who are mostly from the capital, Bangkok, and represent the middle class and economic elite of the country — are playing a cynical and dangerous game. They have concluded that there is no way the Democrat Party, which has lost every election since 1992, can win against Ms. Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party, whose populist policies like free health care and subsidies for rice farmers has earned it the loyalty of many voters, especially those in northern and northeastern Thailand. If they manage to depose the Ms. Yingluck’s government, the supporters of Pheu Thai will likely take to the streets as they did in 2010.

The theme of both pieces: The protesters are subverting democracy, and their efforts will only lead to more turmoil in the long run.

Thailand update: Democrats to boycott election; a few stories on today’s protest

First, the news about the Democrats:

No huge surprise there; here’s a Wall Street Journal story with the details:

Thailand’s opposition Democrat Party Saturday said it would boycott upcoming national elections slated for Feb. 2, raising the stakes in an escalating standoff with the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the country’s democracy had been manipulated by powerful interest groups—a thinly veiled reference to the influential Shinawatra clan—resulting in other Thais “losing faith” in the democratic system.

The boycott adds to the growing pressure on Ms. Yingluck to postpone the election or to step aside to allow an appointed government to take over and pursue a series of reforms before the ballot goes ahead.

And here’s some info on the protests today.

The AP reported:

Tens of thousands of protesters marched through Thailand’s capital on Sunday, paralyzing traffic and facing off with police outside the prime minister’s residence in their latest bid to force her from office.

The rally came a day after Thailand’s main opposition Democrat Party announced that it would boycott early elections called for Feb. 2, a move that appeared to have emboldened the protest movement.

The protesters split into more than a dozen groups scattered around central Bangkok, including in some of the capital’s main shopping areas. One of the groups gathered outside Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s home, but she was not inside at the time. Hundreds of riot police blocked the flag-waving crowd from moving past the home’s outside gate.

The New York Times said:

The dueling realities of Thailand’s political crisis were vividly on display on Sunday.

In Bangkok, antigovernment protesters blocked traffic at major intersections and marched to the house of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, demanding she step down.

But Ms. Yingluck was absent. She was ensconced among adoring crowds in northeastern Thailand, the power base of her party, a vast region with a population that rivals Bangkok.

Like red and blue states in America, Thailand’s geographical divides have become even sharper as the country’s month-old political crisis wears on. And more than ever the country is split over whether elections are the answer to the country’s woes or whether Thailand should suspend democracy while it “reforms” its political system, the plan advocated by protesters.

Reuters said:

Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators massed at sites around Thailand’s capital on Sunday in a bid to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra before an uncertain February election the main opposition party will boycott.

Yingluck has called a snap poll for February 2 to try to cool tension and renew her mandate, but protesters reject any election until the implementation of vague reforms ostensibly aimed at weakening the influence of the Shinawatra family.

The weeks-long political deadlock became more uncertain on Saturday when the opposition Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest, announced it would boycott the election, saying the democratic system had failed Thais.

Bloomberg reported:

More than 1,000 anti-government protesters surrounded Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s home in Bangkok, as she criticized the main opposition Democrat Party for its plan to boycott a Feb. 2 election.

“It’s regretful because the Democrats are well-known for their aim to protect democracy and the legislative branch,” Yingluck told reporters traveling with her in Udon Thani province in the country’s northeast, referring to the party led by Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former premier. “The Democrats’ aim is political reform. If we don’t have an election, how can we make it concrete?

Thailand update: Suthep calls for more rallies; still no word on Democrats’ election participation

A quick update:

Reuters reports today that faced with dwindling numbers or demonstrators, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has called for marches on Thursday (tomorrow) and Friday and a gathering on Sunday:

Anti-government demonstrators in Thailand said they will step up their protests in an attempt to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office and push through electoral reforms before a general election is held.

The number of protesters camped on the street in the capital has dwindled to about 2,000 over the past week but their leader, former deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban, called for marches in central Bangkok on Thursday and Friday, followed by a big rally on Sunday.

It will be interesting to watch the turnout.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have yet to decide whether or not they’ll take part in February’s elections. Bloomberg says:

Thailand’s main opposition party, which re-elected former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as leader yesterday, will meet Dec. 21 to decide whether to boycott a snap election forced by protests that gripped the capital.

The Democrat Party faces a tough call on whether to run in the Feb. 2 polls as its stands to be hurt “both ways” by its decision, Abhisit told reporters in Bangkok yesterday after the group’s meeting, where members voted overwhelmingly to re-elect him. New and past board members of the party and former lawmakers will be invited to the take part in the decision-making gathering, he said.

Other links:

A recent BBC video report from Northeastern Thailand shows — in case it were ever in doubt — the extent of political polarization here. (Click through to view it.)

And the WSJ‘s Southeast Asia Real time has a story on Thais who are trying to remain neutral amid the political crisis:

Amid political protests that have divided Thailand into two opposing camps – those in support of the government and those against it – a third voice is being silenced for trying to remain neutral.

These “Silent” or “Indifferent Thais,” as they’ve been dubbed by both sides, have chosen to stay out of a battle that has seen protesters opposed to the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra take to the streets in ever larger numbers over the past few weeks.

As the situations escalates, Thais who have tried their hardest not to get involved say the divisions in the country are making their lives harder.

“Talking politics in daily life is difficult these days as it could easily lead to fierce arguments,” said 41-year-old Dome Promayorn, a sales manager for a consumer good’s company in Bangkok.

He has chosen not to join the rallies because he says the protest leaders lack “vision,” but his wife has regularly been attending the protests without him.

Worth a read.

And finally, Here’s a cartoon from a recent edition of the International New York Times that produced some interesting replies when I shared it on Twitter Monday.

Thailand update: We’ve reached a stalemate

Hurry up and wait.

Those looking for a speedy solution to Thailand’s ongoing political crisis might be feeling that way at the moment. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban continues to insist PM Yingluck quit; she she refuses to do that, having already dissolved parliament.

Suthep says he won’t participate in government-sponsored reform talks, and it’s unclear whether or not the Democrats will take part in elections set for Feb. 2.

Recent days have, however, brought a few basic details on Suthep’s proposal for a new system of government. Reuters reports:

The leader of a protest group trying to overthrow Thailand’s government and scrap planned elections said on Friday the prime minister should either step down or be forced out, and his movement would then need around a year to push through reforms.

Suthep Thaugsuban, a lawmaker who resigned from parliament to lead the protest, and his allies have spoken of a volunteer police force, decentralization of power and electoral reform – but apart from that have been short on specifics.

And:

The “soft way out” of the impasse, Suthep said, was for Yingluck to quit and let his council push through reforms. Failing that, the people would simply seize power, he said.

“Once we complete this in 12 to 14 months’ time … everything will return to normal,” Suthep said.

Elsewhere, here are some other stories worth checking out:

Updates here will be less frequent than earlier unless there’s big news. As always, follow me on Twitter for more regular dispatches.

Thailand update: Yingluck won’t quit, details from Suthep, more drone journalism

Here’s the latest:

Yingluck won’t quit.

The AP reports:

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Tuesday she would not resign ahead of national elections set for Feb. 2, despite opposition demands she step down as the caretaker head of government.

Yingluck spoke one day after she announced elections — and one day after the main opposition leader ended a massive protest rally of 150,000 people by insisting his movement had now assumed broad political power.

And:

Yingluck told reporters Tuesday that ‘‘I must do my duty as caretaker prime minister according to the constitution.’’

She became choked up when asked about her family’s role in Thai politics.

‘‘I’m not without emotion,’’ she said, her voice quavering. ‘‘I’m also Thai. Do you want me not to step foot on Thai soil anymore?

‘‘I have retreated as far as I can. So I ask to be treated fairly,’’ she said, turning and walking quickly away from the podium.

Embedded above and on YouTube here is video.

Suthep provides details

Meanwhile, what does protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban propose in the way of a new governmet, exactly? The New York Times has some details on what he said last night:

In a rambling speech to supporters, the main leader of the protest, Suthep Thaugsuban, declared a “people’s revolution” and a chance for the country to “start over.” The police, notorious for their corruption, would be replaced with “security volunteers,” he said. A new constitution would be written that would ban populist policies of the type that Mr. Thaksin has employed. And a “people’s council” would replace Parliament.

Elsewhere, a couple of quotes from Bloomberg worth checking out:

“Thailand’s crisis will not be resolved unless there is an unlikely compromise, bloody civil war, or the king steps in,” said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University. “He might do so again,” Chambers said.

And:

Yingluck allowed protesters to seize government buildings without police resistance last week in an effort to avoid violence that could give powerful institutions reason to intervene, said Michael Montesano, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. Those institutions may have pressured Yingluck to dissolve the house, he said.

“One can only expect the government, now with a caretaker status, will continue to turn the other cheek,” Montesano said. “But the Democrats clearly smell blood. And, without some sort of outside pressure on them to calm down, there is every reason to expect them to continue to agitate for a very different political system.”

NMA on Thailand

Thailand has received the Next Media Animation treatment — complete with incorrect pronunciation of names.

Embedded above and on YouTube here: “Is Yingluck finally outta luck?” (Via Bangkok Pundit.)

More drone journalism

And finally: I’ve written, both here and at Quartz, about the increasing use of drone journalism here in Thailand.

Click through to see a BBC report from yesterday in which drone protest footage transitions to a live piece to camera. Pretty cool.

Thailand update: Yingluck dissolves house, calls new elections—and protests continue

The latest:

Following the Democrats’ resignation from parliament yesterday, today some 100,000 protesters marched through Bangkok to Government House.

But just as the protest was beginning this morning, news came that Yingluck had dissolved parliament, paving the way for new elections:

The proposed election date is February 2. Yingluck will run again.

And the protests continue.

From Reuters:

The leader of the anti-government movement, Suthep Thaugsuban, said he would not end his demonstrations and would continue a march to Yingluck’s offices at Government House.

“Today, we will continue our march to Government House. We have not yet reached our goal. The dissolving of parliament is not our aim,” Suthep, a former deputy prime minister under the previous military-backed government, told Reuters.

Asked about Yingluck, one protester told the AP:

‘‘We will keep on protesting because we want her family to leave this country,’’ said Boonlue Mansiri, one of tens of thousands who joined a 20-kilometer (12-mile) march to Yingluck’s office.

The sentiment was the same across town, where protesters filled a major four-lane road in the city’s central business district, waving flags, blowing whistles and holding a huge banner that said, ‘‘Get Out Shinawatra.’’

Asked about the dissolution of Parliament, one middle-aged woman in the crowd said, ‘‘It is too late’’ and ‘‘It’s not enough.’’

‘‘At the end of the day, we are going to win,’’ said the woman who identified herself as Paew. ‘‘What happens now? Don’t worry. We will figure it out.’’

Meanwhile, the Red Shirts cancelled a rally that was to be held tomorrow in Ayutthaya.

Other links:

Thailand update: Democrats quit parliament, protesters to march tomorrow (Monday)

The opposition Democrat party today said they’re resigning from parliament en masse. As the AP reports:

Thailand’s main opposition party resigned from Parliament on Sunday to protest what it called “the illegitimacy” of a government with which it can no longer work. The move deepens the country’s latest political crisis one day before new street demonstrations that many fear could turn violent.

Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut told The Associated Press his party could not work in the legislature anymore because the body is “no longer accepted by the people.”

Regarding the march tomorrow (Monday), the Bangkok Post says:

All nine major anti-government rallies from various points in Bangkok will move towards one place – Government House – on Monday in what protester leader Suthep Thaugsuban has called the final effort achieve the ultimate goal of uprooting the Thaksin regime.

The protests led by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) on Monday are intended to wrap up the one-month of demonstrations which began at Samsen railway station before moving to three key areas – Democracy Monument, the Finance Ministry compound and the Government Complex.

PDRC spokesman Akanat Prompan announced on Sunday that they will not intrude on the compound of the Prime Minister’s Office. However, the demonstrators will surround it.

And:

Of the 50 or more groups, nine would be directed by the PDRC – two from the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River and seven from the Bangkok side. All columns, except the one led by PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban, would start to move at 9.39am. The main rally led by Mr Suthep will take off from the Chaeng Wattana government offices complex at 8.29am

Here’s a security message from the US Embassy in Bangkok:

Domestic political activists in Thailand have announced they intend to hold large demonstrations at several sites throughout Bangkok on Monday, December 9, 2013. These demonstrations may continue in the coming days, including at several Thai government facilities in areas within and outside of Central Bangkok.

Meanwhile, here are some assorted links I suggest checking out:

Thailand protests update: a few links to share

The truce holds, at least for now.

The Thai king turned 86 today; it’s a national holiday.

Meanwhile, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told supporters Tuesday night:

“We will start our fight again on December 6. We will start as dawn is breaking and we will fight every day until we get victory…”

Here are a few items worth reading:

Stay tuned.