Thailand Protests Continue Despite Concessions From Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

by Noah Simon

The anti-government opposition in Thailand has called for another mass rally on December 22nd, demanding that the February 2nd election be postponed until there is national reform.

The Royal Thai Armed Forces announced on December 15th that they would help to organize the February 2nd election to ensure that it is “fair and clean”.

Meanwhile protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is continuing calls for a “people’s council” of unelected officials to install a new government, fearing that Prime Minister Yingluck or a loyal ally will win the early election planned for February. While participation in demonstrations has decreased, protesters have continued to hold marches and rallies in Bangkok.

On December 9th, Prime Minister Yingluck decided to schedule a “snap election” in early February in an effort to diffuse tension with the democratic opposition movement. However, after the announcement hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters resumed their demonstrations around government offices in the capital.

Days after Yingluck announced the February election, anti-government protesters cut off electricity and water supplies from the prime minister’s office. The protesters attempted to force security officials away from the premises to occupy the building.

The anti-government protest movement has repeatedly pressured Yingluck to resign. The prime minister claims she has retreated as far as possible, and has pleaded for an end to protests.

The Democratic Opposition: From Challenging the Amnesty Bill to Removing the “Thaksin Regime”

The protest movement first began in early November to challenge a proposed amnesty law that received bipartisan opposition. The Democratic opposition parties claimed the law would allow Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra to return to Thailand from self-imposed exile and reclaim power.

Roughly 10,000 demonstrators gathered in Bangkok’s financial district on November 4th after the bill passed in the House of Representatives. Protesters blew whistles and stopped traffic to display their discontent.

The amnesty bill was later rejected by the senate on November 11th, but Suthep and the Civil Movement for Democracy immediately called for a three-day national strike, and their demands grew to include the removal of the prime minister, accusing her of being a puppet ruler controlled by her brother.

Avoiding Violent Confrontation

The political crisis in Thailand has been predominantly nonviolent. Both the government and opposition have vocalized their intent on avoiding violent confrontations since protests began.

Yingluck told reporters on December 8th, “the government will use non-violent measures in keeping the security of demonstrations”. Suthep addressed protesters on December 10th and urged them to “express their feelings in a non-violent way”.

The largest incident of violence occurred on November 30th, when a shootout between anti-government protesters and government supporters left several dead and many wounded.

Since that fatal incident, both the government and opposition have taken steps to avoid violence.

On December 3rd the police removed barricades to reduce tension between protesters and police. Protesters entered the police compound and posed for photographs with officers, offering them flowers and hugs. The Bangkok chief of police explained, “it is government policy to avoid confrontation”.

Demonstrations came to a temporary halt on December 5th, when the country celebrated King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 86th birthday. Since then, anti-government protests have continued despite Yingluck’s attempts to appease the democratic opposition.

Throughout the political crisis, the military has remained neutral, fearing a repeat of Thailand’s violent 2010 protests that resulted in nearly 100 deaths.

The police continue to shy away from detaining Suthep Thaugsuban despite a warrant for his arrest on charges of insurrection. The national police chief has repeatedly skipped meetings where Suthep is present. The police chief explains that he would be violating the criminal code for “negligence of duty” if he were to attend a meeting and not arrest the protest leader.

Suthep met with Yingluck in the presence of high-ranking military officials on December 1st, but no action was taken against the protest leader.