Thai PM Yingluck Dissolves Parliament, but Tensions Remain High

Yellow Shirt protesters in Bangkok determined to oust Thailand’s first female Premier

  • Share
  • Read Later
Dylan Martinez / Reuters

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra arrives for an interview with foreign media at the Government House in Bangkok on Dec. 7, 2013

Updated: 3:27 a.m. E.T., Dec. 9, 2013

Facing large protests and calls for her resignation, embattled Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament on Monday to pave the way for fresh elections that she will likely win again.

But with Yellow Shirt demonstrators repeatedly rejecting offers for a return to the polls, this move is unlikely to placate the hordes seeking to oust Thailand’s first female Premier. Yingluck has proposed Feb. 2 as the date for the new ballot.

(MORE: Thailand’s Color War: Why Red Hates Yellow)

On Monday, the eerie calm that reigned in Bangkok over the King’s birthday on Dec. 5 melted away, as protesters redoubled their efforts to rid the country of Yingluck and the political influence of her family.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was in typically bombastic form, calling for a “final push” starting at 9:39 a.m. (the Thai word for nine is a homonym for “go forward”). On Sunday, all 153 of his former lawmaker colleagues in the opposition Democrat Party resigned to join the protests.

“We’ve been waiting for the government to show its responsibility and return power to the people so the country can start afresh,” Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva told assembled media. In place of the government 15 million Thais elected in a landslide in July 2011, he advocates a “people’s council” of appointed “good people” to lead the Southeast Asian nation. The proposal underscores the political gulf between the Thaksin family’s Red Shirt supporters — largely the rural poor — and the Yellow Shirt backers of the ironically named Democrat Party, who are mostly royalists, aristocrats and urban elites.

An arrest warrant for Suthep, who left the opposition Democrat Party last month to lead the current protests, has been issued on a charge of treason. He could face life imprisonment or even the death penalty if convicted.

“Sometimes when I listen to Suthep I wonder what it is he’s hoping to actually achieve,” Nicholas Farrelly, a Southeast Asia specialist at Australian National University, tells TIME. “He’s a contradictory and somewhat unpredictable figure.”

(MORE: Thai Police Seek to Calm Bangkok Protests as King’s Birthday Nears)

Suthep vowed to hand himself in to authorities if sufficient numbers did not join his cause on Monday. Police chief Adul Saengsingkaew announced that he expected from 70,000 to 100,000 people to march in Bangkok.

The initial pretext for the protests, which have now ensnared the sprawling Thai capital for over a month, was an amnesty bill that would have allowed the return to Thailand of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother who was sentenced to two years in jail for corruption following his ousting in a military coup in 2006.

The legislation failed to pass the parliamentary upper house and appears shelved for the time being. Nevertheless, the mere fact that it was proposed has fortified accusations that Yingluck is a stooge for her politically divisive sibling. The same accusations arose over her recent attempt to alter the Senate’s current half-elected, half-appointed form in favor of a more democratic composition — a move that would have consolidated her power. (A clique of military generals determined the current makeup in 2007 as a way of wing clipping the Thaksin clan.)

The unrest comes just as Thailand is gearing up for peak tourist season. Some 34 governments are now warning against travel there.

MORE: Thailand’s Democrat Party Is Hilariously Misnamed