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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.

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Thai politics Thailand

Bangkok Pundit on Recent Anti-Government Protest in Thailand

One more item, following my last dispatch, to file under post-rally readings: some analysis from Bangkok Pundit.

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Thai politics Thailand

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.

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Thai politics Thailand

Anti-Government Protesters to Rally in Bangkok Saturday

2012 11 23 bangkok protest map
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.


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Thai politics

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.