Protesters Target Thai PM’s Party, Govt Seeks to Avoid Violent Confrontation

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre 29 November 2013

BANGKOK — Anti-government demonstrators plan to march toward the headquarters of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s ruling party on Friday, forging ahead with a campaign to overthrow her after rejecting her call for dialogue.

Yingluck breezed through a parliamentary no-confidence vote on Thursday but that failed to pacify protesters who accuse her of abusing her party’s majority to push through laws that strengthen the behind-the-scenes power of self-exiled brother and former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Though the number of protesters appear to be dwindling since the start of the week, a hard-core remain determined to target symbols of the “Thaksin regime” to weaken a leader they call a puppet, and government they say has lost its mandate to rule.

The protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, a deputy prime minister in the previous government, rejected Yingluck’s televised plea for talks.

Yingluck has ruled out resigning or dissolving parliament.

As the rallies drag on, questions are being raised about what lies ahead in a conflict that broadly pits urban middle classes against the mostly rural supporters of Thaksin, a divisive tycoon ousted in a 2006 military coup and central to Thailand’s eight years of on-off turmoil.

Before thousands of supporters occupying a state office complex in a Bangkok suburb, Suthep vowed firm action, but was unwilling to say what that would be.

“The end game will happen in the next day or two. All will be revealed tomorrow night,” he said late on Thursday.

His rhetoric may not rattle a government asserting its legitimacy and intent on riding out the storm. As tensions mount, it has urged police and its supporters to avoid confronting demonstrators it says are running out of steam.

“The government will not instigate a violent situation because that is exactly what Suthep wants,” said Udomdet Rattanasatein, a lawmaker from Yingluck’s Puea Thai party.

“We will not be provoked.”

Yingluck had governed for two years without a major challenge until last month, when Puea Thai tried to ram through an amnesty bill that would have expunged Thaksin’s 2008 graft conviction and cleared the way for his political comeback.

The Senate rejected it, Yingluck shelved it, but the protests escalated, switching overnight from anti-amnesty to anti-government.

Thaksin’s working-class support has ensured parties led by himself, his brother-in-law and now his sister have won a decade of elections, but none without overthrow attempts by extra-parliamentary groups who say he politicized and bought-off the poor with cheap credit, health care for a dollar and cash-hemorrhaging state subsidies.

Among the key protagonists in Thailand’s dysfunctional democracy are those who revile Thaksin’s authoritarianism—conservative generals, aristocrats, big businessmen and royal advisors—whose accusations of graft and disloyalty to the monarchy have mobilized Bangkok’s middle classes. Thaksin refutes their claims.

The demonstrators have a presence at five locations in Bangkok, three in its historic heart, one in the city’s northern fringe and another at the Finance Ministry they have occupied since Monday.

The Civil Movement for Democracy, as the demonstrators are known, has garnered support from white collar workers and 45 unions with a combined 200,000 members.

The union of Thai Airways International, 51 percent owned by the Finance Ministry, on Thursday threatened to go on strike and ground the flag carrier’s entire fleet if any demonstrators were harmed.

“If the government uses force … we will increase the pressure by stopping the plane wheels from turning,” said the union’s president, Damrong Waikanee