Attempts to unseat the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appear to be entering their final phase with protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban declaring a “day of victory” on Sunday and giving the embattled Thai Prime Minister two days to step down.
Four people died and more than 100 were injured as violence returned to Bangkok over the weekend. Riot police held their lines by using water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to force back thousands of protesters attempting to storm government buildings by throwing rocks, homemade explosives and Molotov cocktails.
Suthep held a military-brokered face-to-face meeting with Yingluck on Sunday, but refused to reduce demands for the Prime Minister’s resignation. “This is the only one [demand], and there will be no more until a victory for the people,” said Suthep, formerly a Deputy Prime Minister for the opposition Democrat Party.
After a week of escalating violence, during which masked demonstrators used pickup trucks to tear down concrete barricades outside Government House, Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok used a televised announcement on Sunday to urge Bangkok residents to stay indoors overnight, warning that they may “become victims of provocateurs” if they stray from their homes.
Yingluck, who won a landslide election in July 2011, is accused of being a puppet for her brother, billionaire ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra. Protesters have been urged to seize 10 government buildings, including the Prime Minister’s offices, the police headquarters and six television stations in a “people’s coup.”
Suthep has called for the dissolution of the government and the formation of a “people’s council” of “good people” in order to appoint a “people’s parliament,” but many remain baffled by the cryptic form of administration proffered.
“This idea of a ‘people’s parliament’ — I don’t know what it means,” says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, adding that the current situation is “desperate and unpredictable.”
In turn, Yingluck told assembled media on Monday that she was prepared to negotiate, but could not accept a “people’s council” that was unconstitutional.
The current mass mobilization began almost a month ago with protests against an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return home. Although now shelved after failing to pass the Senate, the legislation led to a show of public outrage that was seized upon by Suthep and his cohorts as a general indictment of the Yingluck administration.
Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and now lives in exile in Dubai after he was sentenced in absentia to two years’ imprisonment for corruption. The amnesty bill would also pave the way for Thaksin to have $1.2 billion in seized cash and assets returned — profits from a tax-free telecommunications deal.
Thailand has experienced 18 attempted or successful coups since 1932, but the military has appeared reluctant to intervene in the latest situation. “The military has positioned itself as neutral, and it wants to see a peaceful way out,” Yingluck told reporters on Monday. While similar politically motivated violence in 2010 led to more than 90 deaths and 2,000 people injured, observers claim that the security forces have been more reserved in dealing with protesters this time around.
Although deeply unpopular with Bangkok-based urban elites and royalists, Yingluck retains significant backing among the rural poor of the highly populated northeast of the country, and would almost certainly win again at the polls. Thaksin-backed parties have won the past five elections with significant majorities.
Signs were that demonstrations were continuing through Monday, although the call for a general strike appears to have fallen flat. “Businesses will not tolerate this kind of general strike,” adds Pavin. “We are only talking about Bangkok, and I don’t think people in other provinces will play along with this game.”
Thursday is the 86th birthday of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, an important national holiday that Suthep will be keen not to mar with bloodshed. The current push is acknowledged as an attempt to achieve his goal of dissolving the government before this auspicious occasion, while Yingluck must sit on her hands and attempt to wait out the ongoing strife.
“This is one of the obstacles for Suthep,” says Pavin. “Time is running out for him.”