Thousands march against Thailand's embattled government
Protesters demand resignation of prime minister, who faces no-confidence vote
A Red-Shirt pro-Thaksin supporter shouts slogans during a rally to support the Thai government at Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok. Photograph: Rungroj Yongrit
Thousands of anti-government protesters marched through the Thai capital today demanding the resignation of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a day after the biggest demonstrations since deadly political unrest in 2010.
With helmeted riot police looking on, about 30,000 protesters chanted “Get Out!” as they spread their protest to government offices, military bases and state television channels.
Anti-government rallies, which began last month, were triggered by a government-backed amnesty bill that could have led to the return of Ms Yingluck’s brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, without facing jail time for a 2008 corruption sentence.
Although the bill has been dropped, for the time being, at least, the demonstrations have escalated into an all-out call for government change and the ouster of Ms Yingluck who is widely viewed as Mr Thaksin’s proxy as he wields influence over government policies from a base in Dubai.
Ms Yingluck, who faces a no-confidence debate tomorrow, said she would not leave office.
“I have no intention to resign or dissolve the House,” she told reporters. “The cabinet can still function, even though we are facing some difficulties. All sides have shown their political aims, now they must turn to face each other and talk in order to find a peaceful way out for the country.”
Protesters marched to 12 buildings, including the Royal Thai Army headquarters, to urge civil servants to join their campaign.
“We will protest peacefully, blowing whistles and handing out flowers,” Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister under the previous Democrat-led government and now leader of the anti-government campaign, told a huge crowd yesterday.
Thailand’s National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr said as many as 180,000 turned up to demonstrate yesterday while police estimates put the crowd at 100,000.
Mr Thaksin, who won elections in 2001 and 2005 by landslides, remains a populist hero among the poor, whose votes helped Ms Yingluck and her party sweep polls in 2011.
But corruption scandals steadily eroded his popularity among Bangkok’s middle class. That was compounded by royalist accusations that Mr Thaksin was undermining the monarchy, which he denied.
Nevertheless, the former telecommunications tycoon, who fled just before his 2008 graft conviction, remains deeply mistrusted by the Bangkok-based establishment and many members of the middle class.
The protests have brought back memories of a tumultuous 2008 when anti-Thaksin “yellow shirt” protesters shut down Bangkok’s airports and held crippling rallies against a Thaksin government, which was eventually disbanded by a court.
Ms Yingluck’s ruling Puea Thai Party received a blow last week when the Constitutional Court rejected its proposals to make the Senate fully elected. That could have strengthened her government given her widespread support among voters in the heavily populated north and northeast.
Supporters of Mr Thaksin and Ms Yingluck gathered in a stadium at the opposite end of the city, about 15 km away, say the court verdict is the latest attempt by anti-Thaksin forces to thwart the legislative process.
“The court has violated the rights of the people to change the charter. If our enemies try to stage a military coup, we will come out,” Thida Thawornseth, leader of the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, said.