Thai protesters head for downtown Bangkok in bid to topple PM

BANGKOK Mon Feb 3, 2014 2:50pm IST

1 of 3. An anti-government protester carrying a national flag, a guitar and a 'No Vote' sign follows others moving from one protest camp to another in Bangkok February 3, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai anti-government protesters who have been camped out in north Bangkok packed their tents and marched downtown on Monday as they consolidated efforts to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a day after a disrupted general election.

Some joined protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban on foot and others followed in cars and six-wheel trucks as Thailand's long-running political conflict showed no sign of ending.

Others surrounded a government office in north Bangkok where Yingluck and two senior ministers had been holding a meeting and cut through a barbed-wire fence. They did not enter the building and it was unclear if Yingluck was still inside.

The protesters closed camps at two of the seven big intersections that they have blockaded since mid-January, at Victory Monument and Lat Phrao, and were heading for the fringes of the central oasis of Lumpini Park.

A third camp run by an allied group at a big government administrative complex may also be closed.

Suthep said on Sunday this was being done out of safety concerns, but it could also be because their numbers are dwindling. Reuters put the number of marchers at about 3,000, with hundreds surrounding the government office.

"Suthep's movement is now crumbling, but it still has powerful unseen backers," said Chris Baker, a historian and prominent Thailand scholar.

"Backdoor negotiations are needed because both sides will avoid any direct confrontation in public view. The business lobby should revive its efforts to play the intermediary role."

Suthep's supporters on the route showed no sign of crumbling, waving flags and handing over money.

The demonstrators blocked balloting in a fifth of the country's constituencies on Sunday, saying Yingluck must resign and make way for an appointed "people's council" to overhaul a political system they say has been taken hostage by her billionaire brother and former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra.

The election, boycotted by the main opposition party, is almost certain to return Yingluck to power and, with voting passing off peacefully across the north and northeast, Yingluck's supporters will no doubt claim a legitimate mandate.

But the vote is unlikely to change the dysfunctional status quo in a country popular with tourists and investors yet blighted by eight years of polarisation and turmoil, pitting the Bangkok-based middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poor, rural supporters of the Shinawatras.

CARETAKER

The election was peaceful, apart from a few scuffles, with no repeat of the chaos seen the previous day, when supporters and opponents of Yingluck clashed in north Bangkok. Seven people were wounded by gunshots or explosions.

The protesters have rallied in Bangkok since November to try to oust Yingluck. They wanted electoral rules rewritten before any election and have vowed to keep up the protests.

"I'm confident this election won't lead to the formation of a new government," Suthep told supporters late on Sunday.

Giving provisional data on Monday, the Election Commission said 20.4 million people cast their vote on Sunday, just under 46 percent of the 44.6 million eligible voters in 68 of 77 provinces. In the other nine provinces, no voting was possible.

Voting was disrupted in 18 percent of constituencies, 67 out of 375, the Commission said, revising data given Sunday.

It is unclear when voting will be held there and it could be weeks before parliamentary seats are filled, so Yingluck will remain a caretaker premier with no policy authority, unable to approve any new government spending.

"Having gone through more than two months of protests, the election will strengthen Yingluck's position, but her troubles are not over yet," said Kan Yuanyong, director of the Siam Intelligence Unit think tank.

"We'll see a continuation of the conflict, the standoff remains and the likelihood of more violence could increase."

The Election Commission said it expected legal challenges as early as Monday to try to invalidate the poll and attack the legitimacy of the government

The protesters say former telecoms tycoon Thaksin has subverted a fragile democracy with populist politics such as subsidies, cheap loans and healthcare to woo the poor and guarantee victory for his parties in every election since 2001.

Thaksin's critics also accuse him of disrespecting Thailand's revered monarchy, which he denies.

Thaksin has lived abroad since 2008 to avoid a jail term for a graft conviction he says was politically motivated. Critics say Yingluck is merely a stand-in for him.

Thaksin's supporters accuse the military and the establishment, including the judiciary, of colluding over the years to oust his governments.

The military, which has staged numerous coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, overthrew Thaksin in 2006 but has stayed aloof this time.

Graphic: Bangkok protests link.reuters.com/rar85v

Thai political unrest link.reuters.com/baz35v

(Additional reporting by Chaiwat Subprasom; Editing by Nick Macfie and Robert Birsel)

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Comments (3)
Anan_Pakvasa wrote:
Reuters’ coverage of Thailand’s protests doesn’t tell the whole story and lacks in-depth analysis of the root cause of the protestors’ grievances.

From the point of view of many foreigners who aren’t familiar with the political situation in Thailand, the protracted protests may appear to be undemocratic; especially when the focus is only on the obstruction of the February 2 general elections without also looking at the underlying cause of the middle-class uprising.

To understand the demand for reform before election of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), you have to dig down to the root cause of the current political standoff. It’s the widespread corruption and the lack of effective anti-corruption measures to counter the corrupt practices of politicians who use the lure of populist policies–which are draining the country’s coffers both now and in the future through the incurring of public debt to finance the policies such as the rice subsidy program which is being investigated for irregularities–to secure election wins, especially among the rural population who directly benefits from such policies, at the expense of the middle class who is the largest taxpayer base. Bangkok, where the largest number of middle-class taxpayers resides, accounts for 57.85% of the whole country’s tax base. It’s baffling to me that Reuters chose not to touch on this issue at all.

To put things in perspective, I’d like to cite some figures that reflect how bad corruption has become in Thailand. According to Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, Thailand was ranked 102th out of a total of 175 countries. It slipped from 88th in 2012. Interestingly, Thailand was ranked 61th in 2001, the year Thaksin Shinawatra first became Prime Minister in the Thaksin 1 government.

Another aspect of the current political stalemate may baffle foreigners who are not well informed about Thai politics. Many foreign observers may wonder why the PDRC is demanding reform before election. Couldn’t they accept the Yingluck government’s proposal to go ahead with the election and reform at the same time? Why can’t the PDRC compromise? Isn’t this offer by the government too much to ask for?

Not if the government has shown its sincerity in heeding the legitimate voice of the pro-reform movement led by the PDRC. However, its actions so far speak otherwise. Its half-hearted attempt in forming the Reform Council by government officials lacks both credibility and neutrality, and is just a stonewalling tactic to make the PDRC’s demand for a People’s Council look unconstitutional.

Had it been sincere, it should have assigned the task to people who are neutral, more respectable and acceptable to all parties. Such qualified persons are not that hard to find but the government has instead been insisting on leading and overseeing the process itself which will never be accepted by its opponents, a stance that reflects its ill intention from the beginning. It’s unrealistic to expect the PDRC to accept any government-led reform as there’s no way to ensure that it won’t be influenced by the government one way or another—especially if the elections and the reform process will go in parallel as proposed by the government. And more importantly, it’s illogical to expect the government to allow a rewriting of the rules that are benefitting the incumbent.

Without some breakthrough sincerely initiated by the government that addresses the pro-reform movement’s concerns, no end to this standoff is in sight.

I can only hope that Reuters will be more thorough in its analysis of the Thai political situation in the future. Any biased view from the media will only encourage the Yingluck government to claim the legitimacy it has already lost by turning a blind eye on the violence being directed against the peaceful protestors whose demand is protected by the Constitution.

The people have every right to demand reform before election if the current system has failed to live up to their aspirations. To paraphrase Calvin Coolidge, the 30th U.S. President: “There is no force as democratic as the force of an ideal.”

Anan Pakvasa
Bangkok

Feb 03, 2014 4:48pm IST  --  Report as abuse
Anan_Pakvasa wrote:
(Revised version)

From the point of view of many foreigners who aren’t familiar with the political situation in Thailand, the protracted protests may appear to be undemocratic; especially when the focus is only on the obstruction of the February 2 general elections without also looking at the underlying cause of the protests.

To understand the demand for reform before election of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), we have to dig down to the root cause of the current political standoff. It’s the widespread corruption and the lack of effective anti-corruption measures to counter the practices of corrupt politicians who use the lure of populist policies to secure an election win. Such policies are draining the country’s coffers both now and in the future through the incurring of public debt to finance the policies, for instance, the rice subsidy program which is being investigated for irregularities and may wreak havoc with the country’s finances for decades. Reuters should also touch on the issue of corruption to get the full picture of the underlying problem.

To put things in perspective, I’d like to cite some figures that reflect how bad corruption has become in Thailand. According to Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, Thailand was ranked 102th out of a total of 175 countries. It slipped from 88th in 2012. Interestingly, Thailand was ranked 61th in 2001, the year Thaksin Shinawatra first became Prime Minister in the Thaksin 1 government.

Another aspect of the current political stalemate may baffle foreigners who are not well informed about Thai politics. Many foreign observers may wonder why the PDRC is demanding reform before election. Couldn’t they accept the Yingluck government’s proposal to go ahead with the election and reform at the same time? Why can’t the PDRC compromise? Isn’t this offer by the government too much to ask for?

Not if the government has shown its sincerity in heeding the legitimate voice of the pro-reform movement led by the PDRC. However, its actions so far speak otherwise. Its half-hearted attempt in forming the Reform Council by government officials lacks both credibility and neutrality, and is just a stonewalling tactic to make the PDRC’s demand for a People’s Council look unconstitutional.

Had it been sincere, it should have assigned the task to people who are neutral, more respectable and acceptable to all parties. Such qualified persons are not that hard to find but the government has instead been insisting on leading and overseeing the process itself which will never be accepted by its opponents, a stance that reflects its ill intention from the beginning.

It’s unrealistic to expect the PDRC to accept any government-led reform as there’s no way to ensure that it won’t be influenced by the government one way or another—especially if the elections and the reform process will go in parallel as proposed by the government. And more importantly, it’s illogical to expect the government to allow a rewriting of the rules that are benefitting the incumbent.

Without some breakthrough sincerely initiated by the government that addresses the pro-reform movement’s concerns, no end to this standoff is in sight.

Any incomplete picture reported by the media will only encourage the Yingluck government to claim the legitimacy it has already lost by turning a blind eye on the violence being directed against the peaceful protestors whose demand is protected by the Constitution.

The people have every right to demand reform before election if the current system has failed to live up to their aspirations. To paraphrase Calvin Coolidge, the 30th U.S. President: “There is no force as democratic as the force of an ideal.”

Anan Pakvasa

Bangkok, Thailand

Feb 03, 2014 7:12pm IST  --  Report as abuse
Anan_Pakvasa wrote:
(Revised version)

From the point of view of many foreigners who aren’t familiar with the political situation in Thailand, the protracted protests may appear to be undemocratic; especially when the focus is only on the obstruction of the February 2 general elections without also looking at the underlying cause of the protests.

To understand the demand for reform before election of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), we have to dig down to the root cause of the current political standoff. It’s the widespread corruption and the lack of effective anti-corruption measures to counter the practices of corrupt politicians who use the lure of populist policies to secure an election win. Such policies are draining the country’s coffers both now and in the future through the incurring of public debt to finance the policies, for instance, the rice subsidy program which is being investigated for irregularities and may wreak havoc with the country’s finances for decades. Reuters should also touch on the issue of corruption to get the full picture of the underlying problem.

To put things in perspective, I’d like to cite some figures that reflect how bad corruption has become in Thailand. According to Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, Thailand was ranked 102th out of a total of 175 countries. It slipped from 88th in 2012. Interestingly, Thailand was ranked 61th in 2001, the year Thaksin Shinawatra first became Prime Minister in the Thaksin 1 government.

Another aspect of the current political stalemate may baffle foreigners who are not well informed about Thai politics. Many foreign observers may wonder why the PDRC is demanding reform before election. Couldn’t they accept the Yingluck government’s proposal to go ahead with the election and reform at the same time? Why can’t the PDRC compromise? Isn’t this offer by the government too much to ask for?

Not if the government has shown its sincerity in heeding the legitimate voice of the pro-reform movement led by the PDRC. However, its actions so far speak otherwise. Its half-hearted attempt in forming the Reform Council by government officials lacks both credibility and neutrality, and is just a stonewalling tactic to make the PDRC’s demand for a People’s Council look unconstitutional.

Had it been sincere, it should have assigned the task to people who are neutral, more respectable and acceptable to all parties. Such qualified persons are not that hard to find but the government has instead been insisting on leading and overseeing the process itself which will never be accepted by its opponents, a stance that reflects its ill intention from the beginning.

It’s unrealistic to expect the PDRC to accept any government-led reform as there’s no way to ensure that it won’t be influenced by the government one way or another—especially if the elections and the reform process will go in parallel as proposed by the government. And more importantly, it’s illogical to expect the government to allow a rewriting of the rules that are benefitting the incumbent.

Without some breakthrough sincerely initiated by the government that addresses the pro-reform movement’s concerns, no end to this standoff is in sight.

Any incomplete picture reported by the media will only encourage the Yingluck government to claim the legitimacy it has already lost by turning a blind eye on the violence being directed against the peaceful protestors whose demand is protected by the Constitution.

The people have every right to demand reform before election if the current system has failed to live up to their aspirations. To paraphrase Calvin Coolidge, the 30th U.S. President: “There is no force as democratic as the force of an ideal.”

Anan Pakvasa

Bangkok, Thailand

Feb 03, 2014 7:13pm IST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

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