Thailand protests: anti-amnesty push morphs into an effort to topple Yingluck

2013 11 12 rally
Outside the Terminal 21 shopping mall

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Marching down Sukhumvit road

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Heading toward Phloenchit

Above are a few photos I snapped yesterday as protesters marched near the Asoke intersection here in Bangkok.

A few thoughts:

The protests began last week and targeted a proposed amnesty bill that could have led to the return of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Though the Thai Senate last night rejected the bill, the demonstrations continue. In fact, an opposition leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, has now called for a general strike from Nov. 13-15 (tomorrow through Friday).

“We will escalate our fight by inviting the people to rigorously carry out civil disobedience throughout the country,” he told the Associated Press. The AP continues:

He called for a three-day closure of businesses and schools to allow people to join the strike; a withholding of taxes that allegedly are used for corruption; the display of the national flag; and the blowing of whistles, which have become a noisy tool of protest, near government leaders.

So why are the demonstrations continuing despite the legislation’s demise?

For one thing, the lower house can resubmit the bill after 180 days. But organizers surely couldn’t keep rallies going for six months anyway.

Instead, the protests aren’t really about the bill anymore. Indeed, a refrain among the demonstrators I saw yesterday was “awwk bpai” (ออกไป), which means “get out.” As in, it’s time for the government of Prime Minister Yingluck — Thaksin’s younger sister, of course — to go.

As analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak told the New York Times yesterday, “The opposition to the amnesty bill has been deep and wide…It has now escalated into an effort to overthrow the government.”

What next?

Regarding protests yesterday, Reuters says:

More than 10,000 riot police were stationed around main government buildings near the rallies, which are stoking fears of clashes between rival groups, the kind of violence that has sunk governments in the past.

While the AP concludes:

Although the latest protests are the strongest against Yingluck’s government, it is unclear if they are sustainable, especially in view of the overwhelming support that her government has in Parliament.

As ever, follow me on Twitter for developments.

Following up: A few Stories on Saturday’s Protest in Bangkok

As a follow-up to my previous post, I wanted to point out some stories on Saturday’s anti-government protest in Bangkok:

Embedded above and on Youtube here is a BBC report.

Bloomberg summed up:

Thai anti-government forces called off a rally yesterday aimed at toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra because of a poor turnout after clashes left two police officers in critical condition.

“I quit,” Boonlert Kaewprasit, a retired general leading the demonstration, said in an interview after he called off the rally. “I told the truth. I needed a million people, but we were interrupted when police fired tear gas and blocked people from coming.”

Police said as many as 20,000 protesters attended the rally on a rainy day in Bangkok, short of the 500,000 that demonstration leaders had predicted. Boonlert had earlier threatened to storm Yingluck’s office complex after police used tear gas and detained about 100 people who attempted to breach a road block set up as part of crowd-control measures.

The AP reported:

Protesters calling for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down rallied in the heart of Bangkok on Saturday, clashing with police in the first major demonstration against the government since it came to power last year.

Organizers had spoken of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of supporters. But only around 10,000 turned up, and by dusk the leaders called the rally off.

Nevertheless, the tense gathering served as a reminder that the simmering political divisions unleashed after the nation’s 2006 army coup have not gone away. The coup toppled Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, triggering years of instability and mass-protests that have shaken Bangkok.

The WSJ said:

An antigovernment rally in Bangkok fizzled under tropical downpours Saturday, but the stench of tear gas wafting through the streets was a jarring reminder of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s struggle to escape the shadow of one of Asia’s most divisive politicians: her older brother Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup.

Anti-Government Protesters to Rally in Bangkok Saturday

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Map via The Nation.

The AP reports:

Thailand will deploy thousands of police officers and has invoked a special security law for an anti-government rally Saturday that is expected to be the largest since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra took office in 2011 and that officials fear could turn violent.

Authorities expect tens of thousands of protesters, a turnout that would serve as a sharp reminder of the deep political divisions in the country despite two years of relative calm.

Yingluck on Friday accused the protesters of seeking to overthrow her elected government.

The demonstration is being organized by a royalist group calling itself “Pitak Siam” – or “Protect Thailand” – at Bangkok’s Royal Plaza, a public space near Parliament that has been used by protesters in the past.

While the group is a newcomer to Thailand’s protest scene, it is linked to the well-known “Yellow Shirt” protesters, whose rallies led to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s overthrow. The same movement later toppled a Thaksin-allied elected government after occupying and shutting down Bangkok’s two airports for a week in 2008.

Bloomberg says:

Thai police warned of a plot to abduct Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as her cabinet approved using an internal security law to manage an anti- government rally scheduled for tomorrow.

“We have some worrisome intelligence that there may be violence when a lot of people gather,” National Police Chief Adul Sangsingkeo told reporters in Bangkok yesterday. “We are also very concerned about rumors about riots and the abduction of the prime minister.”

And:

“Despite the noise, there appears to be little likelihood of any eruption, as the UDD red shirts have judiciously announced plans to give the protest a wide berth,” JP Morgan equity analyst Sriyan Pietersz wrote, adding that the political tension may damp overseas demand for Thai stocks.

The WSJ reports:

Amid the buildup to the protest, Thailand’s national police chief Gen. Adul Saensingkaew alleged that investigators had uncovered a plot to abduct Ms. Yingluck and hold her hostage, although analysts said the claim and the imposition of the security laws, are typical of the heated atmosphere around large-scale demonstrations in Thailand. Other unsubstantiated rumors abound, including conspiracy theories that Mr. Thaksin’s opponents plan to fire on the protesters in order to discredit Ms. Yingluck.

“Stories of ‘third-hand’ plans to attack protesters or plans for protesters to ‘arrest’ Prime Minister Yingluck are part and parcel of emotional political events in Bangkok, and are more political drama than an actual threat,” Bangkok-based security consultancy PSA Asia said in a note to clients Thursday.

Theres’s also a story from Reuters, and English-language newspapers The Bangkok Post and The Nation have more.

And finally, for updated news, embedded below and online here is my Twitter list of Bangkok journalists.


Thai Politics Update: Constitution Court Case and Assessing Yingluck’s First Year

Here are a few recent Thailand-related stories I wanted to point out:

Embedded above and online here is a recent Al Jazeera story on the anniversary of Yingluck’s election — and what the future might hold in store for her.

Elsewhere, Reuters reported earlier this week:

With the help of her photogenic looks, disarming personality and popular appeal, Thailand’s first female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has helped maintain a fragile peace since being swept to power in a divided country one year ago.

The political neophyte, who leapt from running a boardroom to governing the country in less than three months, has surprised critics and reassured investors by rebounding from devastating floods and building ties with the top brass of a military entrenched in Thailand’s rough-and-tumble politics.

But the honeymoon might not last much longer and the reason for that lies with her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former premier whose political machine catapulted her to power.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg has a story today on the Constitution Court hearings:

Thailand’s Constitutional Court opens hearings today to determine if allies of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra can rewrite a charter ratified after the army ousted him in 2006, raising the possibility of street protests.

The court last month ordered Parliament to halt consideration of an amendment that would establish a body to rewrite the constitution until it decides whether the process complies with the current charter. The ruling may undermine plans by the party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, to change the document to increase the power of elected politicians over appointed judges and bureaucrats.

And The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday on the case:

Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra faces the possibility her party could be dissolved, just one year after her landslide election victory.

The Constitutional Court is scheduled to hear arguments Thursday on whether the methods used by her Puea Thai (For Thais) party in attempting to amend the constitution—written after the military overthrew Ms. Yingluck’s elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra in a 2006 coup—are illegal.

And finally, for more nitty gritty on the case, see this Bangkok Post story today:

Fifteen people will take the stand when the Constitution Court holds its two-day inquiry beginning today into the legality of the government-sponsored charter amendment bid.

The charter court has finalised the lists of people who will appear in court _ seven from the complainants and eight from the defence, said Constitution Court spokesman Somrit Chaiwong yesterday.

Notes from Thai PM Yingluck’s FCCT Speech

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Somewhat belatedly — but as promised! — here are my notes from the remarks Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra made to journalists and others at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) dinner here in Bangkok on Fri., March 23.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of what she said — see the links to news reports below for that — but rather my observations from the evening that stand out, several days on.

  • First, a note on language: Yingluck choose to give the speech in English. As others have observed, she is a conversational English speaker, but she is not as fluent as her older brother, the exiled, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. And of course, her English is not nearly as smooth as her predecessor, the British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva.

    This meant that Yingluck’s speech lacked, perhaps, some of the nuance and technical details that it might have contained had she had delivered it in Thai, with an interpreter there to provide her remarks in English. (There was, however, an interpreter near the stage who helped her make sense of some of the more complex questions from journalists.)

  • I heard one member of the audience refer to Yingluck as being “coquettish.” I wouldn’t go that far, but she did seem to make every effort to be charming. She smiled frequently and appeared to be quite humble. And, before beginning her speech, she asked the audience to “please be kind to me, na kap ka,” simultaneously claspping her hands together in a wai and bowing. (Corrected March 28. Thanks to a commenter for pointing out the error.)

    Later, when one journalist asked a somewhat complicated question about whether she and Thaksin were playing a “double game” in which they pitted various establishment factions against one another, she responded by saying she didn’t really understand the question. But, she added, grinning: “…I never play games.” This produced some laugher from the audience.

  • Asked why, following last year’s floods and the upcoming minimum wage hike, multinational companies should continue to invest in Thailand, Yingluck said that investors will continue to recognize Thailand’s long-term business potential, as well as its location in the middle of Southeast Asia.

  • I spoke with some people who noted that some of Yingluck’s answers seemed somewhat vague or lacking in specifics. But these same observers said they felt that most professional politicians are focused on evading hard-hitting questions and sticking to their talking points.

  • In his first FCCT speech, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was asked about his musical tastes. He noted that he liked hard rock bands like The Killers, Oasis, and Metallica, among others.

    So, on a lighter note, when asked what kind of music is on her iPod, Yingluck declined to note specific artists. But she did say, with pride, that she has some 5,000 songs on her device. She prefers “easy listening” music, she said.

  • Ultimately, my sense was that PM Yingluck’s performance was unlikely to sway most audience members’ opinions of her. Those who already disliked her were probably not won over by her grace or good humor.

    Similarly, those who already like her were probably not put off by any of her perceived shortcomings.

Elsewhere, you can find stories recapping the speech in more detail from AFP, The Nation, and the Bangkok Post.

For the record, my previous FCCT PM speech round-ups are here (2011, Abhisit); here (2010, Abhisit); and here (2009, Abhisit).

(Image: The Nation.)

Thai PM Yingluck’s FCCT Speech Tonight: Stay Tuned

A quick heads up that just as I did last year and in 2010 and 2009, I’ll be posting some notes from the annual prime minister’s speech to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT).

PM Yingluck will address journalists and others at Bangkok’s InterContinental hotel this evening. More details on the event are on the FCCT site.

I may be posting one or two snippets on Twitter, but regardless I’ll aim to put together a longer blog post that I’ll put up later.

All that by way of saying: stay tuned.

Thaksin Tells Bloomberg He Thinks He’ll Return to Thailand This Year

The video is here.

UPDATE: There’s also a Bloomberg text story to go along with the interview. It says:

Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed as Thai premier in a 2006 coup, said his sister’s seven-month-old government will avoid the same fate due to her good ties with the army and expressed hope he’d return from exile this year.

“As long as there is no issue related to the monarchy, as long as there is no issue about internal security, the military will stay in the barracks,” Thaksin, whose sister Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister in August, said in an interview yesterday in Seoul. “My sister works hard for the people, she respects the monarchy very much and she can work with the military without conflict.”

Yingluck’s push to rewrite the constitution risks sparking violence like in 2008 when a similar effort by Thaksin’s allies led to protests by his yellow-shirted opponents who shut down parts of Bangkok and seized its airports. Yingluck, a political novice before standing in July elections, is seeking to reassure foreign investors after floods last year swamped thousands of factories and caused the economy to shrink for the first time since 2009.

Bloomberg on Pheu Thai’s Proposal to Rewrite Constitution

Bloomberg reports today:

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s party will propose overhauling a constitution written after a 2006 coup that ousted her brother, a move that threatens to reignite political discord.

The Pheu Thai party will present a plan to parliament tomorrow to create a Constitution Drafting Assembly comprising 99 people that has 180 days to draw up a new constitution, spokesman Prompong Nopparit said by phone today. A nationwide referendum will be held after it’s completed, he said by phone.

“The Pheu Thai party sees that the 2007 constitution is not democratic,” Prompong said. “It weakens political parties, weakens politicians and limits the freedom of people. The constitution should be drafted by people for people.”

Moving to rewrite the constitution is Yingluck’s biggest challenge to a military establishment that six years ago overthrew former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra since she took power in August. Moves by Thaksin’s allies in 2008 to change the constitution sparked violent street protests by his yellow-shirted opponents that shut down parts of Bangkok and culminated in the seizure of the city’s airports.

“The government thinks it is confident enough to make a move that will certainly upset the military and anti-Thaksin forces,” said Michael Montesano, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “I’d be very surprised if the Yellow Shirts can bring out the numbers they were able to bring out several years ago.”

Worth a read.

(All emphasis mine.)

Fashion Commentary from Yingluck’s India Visit

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And now for something completely different…

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, as you may know, is visiting India.

While the trip has geopolitical implications — especially for India — a couple of stories in the Indian media on an altogether different topic have caught my eye.

India’s Mail Online has run two dispatches — so far — on Yingluck’s sartorial choices. They’re here and here.

The most recent story, from today, is headlined “Thailand’s Prime Minister scales down glam quotient.” It begins:

Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra continued with her demure dressing style on Wednesday, the second day of her visit to India.

Already having received a lot of attention for her fashion choices and immaculate hair and make-up abroad, especially on diplomatic tours like this one – her dressing style was recently discussed in the Indonesian Parliament, making her blush profusely – Shinawatra has decidedly been low-key on her fashion quotient on this visit.

We saw a dash of glamour during her meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh early in the day – Shinawatra was dressed in a knee-length black skirt teamed with a dull ivory gold doublebreasted jacket. But she was quick to get into a boring pantsuit for her trip to Agra later in the day.

(All emphasis mine.)

(Image: Reuters/Mail Online.)