Mood Growing Tense as Bangkok Shutdown Enters Second Day

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban urges his supporters to step up efforts to disrupt state institutions

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Kerek Wongsa / Reuters

Antigovernment protesters block a major intersection in Bangkok on Jan. 13, 2014

The vaguely carnival air apparent in Bangkok on Monday, as tens of thousands of antigovernment protesters swamped several intersections of the city, may not last through today, the second day of protest.

Yesterday, bands played blues and Thai folk music, fast-food vendors did a roaring trade, and fist-pumping orators gave rousing speeches to decry the state of democracy under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai Party. Protesters of all ages, many sporting national flags painted on their cheeks, shared fruit and gossiped under umbrellas.

However, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former lawmaker for the opposition Democrat Party, urged his supporters to step up their efforts to choke state institutions in coming days. “We must surround government buildings, closing them in the morning and leaving in the afternoon,” Suthep told the crowds.

(MORE: Bangkok Shutdown: Protesters Gather at Key Intersections)

The mood has become markedly more tense today around Bangkok’s government complex, with angry protesters hurling abuse through the gates of police headquarters, although no officers are seen. A student group aligned with the demonstration also threatens to storm the Thai Stock Exchange building, where extra security has been posted.

Although popular with rural voters in the populous northeast of the country, the 46-year-old Yingluck is despised by royalists and the middle classes of Bangkok and southern provinces. Protesters hold banners portraying Yingluck as a puppet under the control of her notorious brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a polarizing figure who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and currently lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai following his conviction for corruption.

“Yingluck is not good, Thaksin is not good, we need reform before elections,” one protester tells TIME, expressing the mantra of the movement.

The reform demanded is the installation of an unelected people’s council in place of the national legislature. Protests have now lasted for almost three months, during which time Yingluck has dissolved Parliament and called elections for Feb. 2. However, the opposition knows that Thaksin-backed parties have won every election since 2001 and the odds are high that they will triumph once again.

(MORE: How Thailand’s Meddlesome Military Got Tired of Meddling)

The current unrest was first sparked in November by a now shelved amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return home. “[The opposition is] worried that the election would only give the Pheu Thai Party a mandate to carry through the amnesty bill to forgive Thaksin,” says Tim Forsyth, a lecturer on international development at the London School of Economics, who specializes in Southeast Asia. “Hence, the [Democrat Party] wants this issue dealt with before the election.”

The diffuse nature of the protests has made it extremely difficult to accurately estimate numbers, but there were clearly tens of thousands gathered at major protest locations on Monday.

“I am here because I love the king,” says one protester festooned in yellow, symbolic color of the ailing monarch. Many protesters accuse Thaksin, a billionaire business tycoon, of attempting to undermine the royal family and traditional organs of Thai political power, including the powerful Privy Council.

Unconfirmed reports in the Thai press on Tuesday suggested that Yingluck was on the brink of resigning, only to be pressured into backtracking by her influential elder sibling. Certainly, on Monday the Prime Minister offered to meet Suthep and negotiate a postponed date for the looming polls. However, the fiery Suthep, who faces rebellion charges relating to recent protests, as well as murder charges for deaths in the 2010 crackdown on pro-Thaksin Red Shirts, told the assembled masses that nothing less than her resignation would be acceptable. The Democrat Party has already boycotted the ballot and candidate registration in southern provinces has been disrupted by opposition blockades.

Meanwhile, in provinces far from Bangkok, pro-Thaksin crowds held banners reading “Respect my vote” to show their support for the elected government and the elections called by Yingluck. So far they have not descended upon the capital (when they did so in 2010, around 90 people were killed in the ensuing violence). Red Shirt leaders are well aware that open confrontation in the street may provoke the military to launch a coup, ostensibly to maintain order. But if Yingluck is forced to relinquish office, there will no longer be anything to lose.

14 comments
sdgreen2000
sdgreen2000

My sense is the Thai Opposition Leader is simply using a tactic to nullify criminal charges against him for his activity during the 2010 events where a good number of folks were killed. Further it is clear that the Thai Elite are unhappy that their profits are being attacked in order to promote the welfare of the peasants and others.


The 2013/14 events are nothing more than an unjustified 'insurrection' against a legally elected government. The procedures adopted by the Thai Opposition are illegal and anti-democratic.

musashi
musashi

@Bluhorizon  

STOP BOASTING ABOUT YOUR TAX CONTRIBUTION!!


My response to those Thais (and some farang kee-nok) who regularly boast that they are the only ones paying tax while the poor do not:

Given a choice, the poor would rather be rich and pay more tax. From young, deprived of education since they have to support the family, they miss out on good jobs when they grow up. Inflation wipes out their purchasing power and drives them deeper into the poverty cycle.

Instead of regularly gloating about income tax payment, do not forget that you are enjoying better city infrastructures paid for by tax, that the poor do not get to enjoy. About 74% of all taxes are from corporate tax and VAT, with the total income tax contribution at about 16% (only a minute portion of which are from the dwindling population of royalists - and in fact, all tax payers are making the king richer every time tax is paid.).

Below facts are for the deluded anti-Thaksin mob who regularly brag that they are the sole contributors of tax, and who keep moaning about shouldering Thailand’s tax burdens. Even just for personal tax, don’t forget a vast majority of tax paying workers voted for PTP.

1. Personal tax: B 266,203 M (16.46%)

2. Corporate tax: B 544,591 M (33.67%)

3. Value added tax: B 659,904 M (40.80%)

4. Specific business tax: B 41,057 M (2.54%)

5. Petroleum tax: B 94,097 M (5.82%)

6. Stamp duty: B 11,180 M (0.69%)

7. Others: B 362.39 M (0.02%)

Above facts are from the revenue department (2012)



Sunitra Satorn
Sunitra Satorn

we want ELECTION not SELECTION!! You can shut down the city not our liberty

musashi
musashi

@Bluhorizon  

In response to your claim that: Thaksin is corrupted and convicted:


From 2006 to 2011, for 5 long years, the junta and the junta puppets (Democrat Party) could only find Thaksin guilty of a conflict of interest (by a court setup by Thaksin's enemies). That "conviction" was made by a kangaroo court made up of judges and committees supervised by coup makers.

The Assets Scrutiny Committee (a critical junta-established agency) recommended legal action against the citizens' elected government PPP (and Thaksin) without hearing 300 defense witnesses or evidence. Kaewsan Atibodhi (ASC’s secretary) even publicly proclaimed "Evidence and witnesses are useless!" (Bangkokpost 9 April 2008). After which, the Constitution Court ruled that the ASC's work, undertaken under junta rules, was legal (Bangkokpost 1 July 2008).

Being full time Thaksin voyeurs and all-knowing about matters regarding Thaksin, the royalists should have plenty of evidence right? Surprisingly not, as we see them trolling day after day accusing Thaksin of crimes, but being unable to produce an iota of evidence to support their verbal incontinence.



john_rambo
john_rambo

For once you can navigate the sidewalks without the annoying vendors. Still I hope the 2 factions don't kill each other.

Bluhorizon
Bluhorizon

Mr. Taksin does not live in "self-imposed" exile, he is a convicted felon on the run and $1 billion of his money was confiscated for his crimes.  What is basically his bribe of the farmers who are his voting base is a rice subsidy, which has made Thai rice too expensive to sell and the government is currently sitting on a 2-year supply.  Rice trucks from surrounding countries are backed up to the horizon waiting to enter Thailand where it becomes "Thai" rice and gets the subsidy.  


Since the poor pay no tax in Thailand, the entire burden falls on the middle class who are basically being exploited to make the farmers happy and keep Taksin in power.  It is a populist scheme to rob the middle class who are in fact the driving force of the nation. 


Mr. Taksin's main fault is greed.  He was a multio-billionnaire when he became PM and by just working within the law he could have been even richer.  But his greed has become his disease and there is no limit to the money he desires.  He could have been the father of modern Thailand but instead he is just another of Thailand's crooks.


The dilemma is that the farmers are numerous and maintain a comfortable majority of the voting base, so any attempt to topple Taksin must be by non-democrtatic means. This means either a government collapse, another coup  or civil war.

musashi
musashi

@Bluhorizon 

Agricultural subsidy is nothing new. Most countries do it. Don't blame the government for trying to help the poor. The poor may not have money or nice clothes, but they look better than someone like you with no soul.

musashi
musashi

@Bluhorizon 

Would you be whining and moaning about Thaksin if the Democrat Party is competent enough to win elections? Or are you blaming their failure to win elections on allegations of Thaksin being corrupted?

Stop deluding yourself and accept that the Democrats are a total failure under the draft dodging Abhisit's leadership.

Bluhorizon
Bluhorizon

@musashi @Bluhorizon That's easy for you to say as you do not live here. This is a classic kelpto-patronage system.  The money comes in, some of it disappears, the kleptocrats get rich and a little goes to the loyal to buy their vote.  This is normal.  The dispute is about the extent. 


The middle class, who actually generate the wealth see their taxes disappear to buy votes against them. The extent is now that the till is empty, years of tax revenues gone and that is what the middle class is angry about.  There is a difference between paying the poor a bribe and actually helping them.  After they get their $8, they are still poor.

Bluhorizon
Bluhorizon

You seem to think I favor one party over another.  Hardly. This matter is not about corruption or none.   It is about the extent.  



musashi
musashi

@Bluhorizon 

Don't assume I'm a foreigner. And don't under estimate the wealth created by the poor for the country, but who see their hard work disappear into the pockets of corrupted middle class and the feudal lords.

Corruption, and buying of votes has been around for decades before Thaksin entered into politics. If you are Thai, you know the Democrat Party is far more corrupted.