Anti-government Thais to intensify protests

Election disruption followed by bids to topple prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra

An anti-government protestor listens as leader Suthep Thaugsuban speaks about the elections during his daily speech in Bangkok,Thailand, on Monday. Photograph: Getty Images

An anti-government protestor listens as leader Suthep Thaugsuban speaks about the elections during his daily speech in Bangkok,Thailand, on Monday. Photograph: Getty Images


After disrupting the general election in Thailand, anti-government protesters have vowed to stage larger rallies in central Bangkok and push ahead with efforts to topple the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Some protesters joined opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban as they packed up their makeshift tent in the north of Bangkok and moved, on foot and flat-bed trucks, to march downtown as the long-running political conflict dragged on.

“I’m confident this election won’t lead to the formation of a new government,” Mr Suthep told his supporters after polling closed on Sunday.

While there are signs the number of opposition supporters is starting to shrink, Mr Suthep is still said to have strong support among the business community in Bangkok.

Byelection question marks
The question now is whether Ms Yingluck will be able to hold byelections in the constituencies that were disrupted by the opposition, or if Mr Suthep’s supporters will succeed in disrupting her government to the point that it is impossible for her to continue.

It will certainly be weeks before parliament can reconvene, which leaves Ms Yingluck’s government with no power to approve government spending or other policy.

The unrest is starting to make itself felt on tourism in one of the world’s top visitor destinations. The row pits the royalist supporters, the professionals and the middle classes of Bangkok against the generally impoverished, rural supporters of the Shinawatras.

Opposition demonstrators have occupied major intersections in the Thai capital in a widescale lockdown, forcing government ministries to shut down.

“We are not giving up the fight,” said Mr Suthep. “Our mission is to keep shutting down government offices, so don’t ask us to give those back.”

While voting went peacefully in many parts of the country, especially in Ms Yingluck’s stronghold in the north and northeast, and she is sure to be re-elected, the opposition Democrats boycotted the poll, and demonstrators disrupted ballots in about one-fifth of the country’s constituencies, stopping millions from voting.

On the day before the vote, supporters and opponents of Ms Yingluck clashed and seven people were wounded by gunshots or explosions.

‘People’s council’
Mr Suthep’s group say Ms Yingluck’s democratically elected government must step down and make way for a “people’s council” to apply broad political reforms.

They say Ms Yingluck’s billionaire brother and former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai after fleeing the country to avoid a jail term for corruption, has bought previous elections using populist measures and straight-up bribery.

Strong support from rural voters has enabled Mr Thaksin or his allies to win every election comfortably since 2001. Mr Thaksin accuses the military and the Bangkok establishment and the judiciary of ganging up on him. He was overthrown by the military in 2006 but the army has kept its distance from the current unrest.

While the Democrats are studying legal ways to invalidate the election, there was no indication of when revotes of Sunday’s disrupted ballots will be held or when the election commission will be able to announce a result.