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Insurrection Leader Strangles Bangkok as Government Crumbles

"Insurrection" Leader Strangles Bangkok as Government Crumbles

by Richard S. Ehrlich | Bangkok, Thailand
December 10, 2013

Hours after the prime minister dissolved parliament on Monday (Dec. 9), a tough-talking "insurrection" leader strangled Bangkok's streets with more than 100,000 protesters, rejected a nationwide election scheduled for Feb. 2, and declared a right-wing "people's revolution".

The anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told his supporters to lay siege overnight until Tuesday (Dec. 10) around Government House, which is the prime minister's now-vacant office.

In a nationally televised speech on Monday (Dec. 9) delivered outdoors at Government House, Mr. Suthep declared his "prachapiwat" or "people's revolution" will end only with the total surrender of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, her powerful family and their political allies.

Mr. Suthep said his would-be "people's council" tribunal will summon government officials and politicians and demand they confess whether or not they support Mrs. Yingluck or "the people".

He instructed people throughout Thailand to set up volunteer security forces to replace the police, because Mr. Suthep perceives police as biased in favor of Mrs. Yingluck.

Mr. Suthep's speech was cheered by more than 100,000 mostly peaceful, Bangkok-based supporters who marched through the capital on Monday (Dec. 9) to surround Government House.

Mr. Suthep has been charged with "insurrection" for orchestrating the past two weeks of mobs occupying government ministries and storming into TV stations and other sites, sparking clashes which killed five people when opposing supporters fought in the street.

He also faces an indictment on Dec. 12 from the Office of Attorney General for alleged premeditated and attempted murders committed in 2010 when he was a Democrat Party deputy prime minister and, along with the military, crushed a pro-democracy uprising resulting in more than 90 deaths, most of them civilians.

Mrs. Yingluck was popularly elected in 2011 and her coalition enjoyed an overwhelming majority in parliament, but after Mr. Suthep's mobs occupied government ministries and other offices during the past two weeks, her ability to rule was crippled.

In response, she announced parliament's dissolution on Monday (Dec. 9), and now rules as a caretaker prime minister until fresh elections on Feb. 2.

Mr. Suthep said on Monday (Dec. 9) he wants Mrs. Yingluck to be immediately replaced with a more agreeable caretaker prime minister, apparently hoping that person would cancel or delay the election.

Mrs. Yingluck and her colleagues are widely expected to win those polls, which is apparently why Mr. Suthep opposes the election, creating a stand-off which could escalate or dissipate in coming days.

Some of Mrs. Yingluck's supporters predict the rush by politicians on all sides to be re-elected during the next two months of campaigning may create a lull that will end the confrontation.

Mr. Suthep apparently wants to continue destabilizing Thailand amid expectations by his supporters that the poorly disciplined, U.S.-trained military will conspire with influential royalists to back Mrs. Suthep's attempt to create a right-wing coup.

His People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) would then emerge "just for a few days" to "form an interim government and establish an assembly, or the so-called people's council," Mr. Suthep told the Bangkok Post on Dec. 4.

That council of "about 200 members" would include unidentified people who are "selected" or "elected" through an unrevealed process.

"But members of the people's council must not be politicians or members of any political parties," Mr. Suthep told the paper.

The tribunal would amend the constitution and then an "interim government" would rule for up to 18 months, he said.

Compared with Mr. Suthep's supporters in the streets, Mrs. Yingluck has a much larger number of protest-hardened backers, collectively known as Red Shirts.

The Reds include rural and urban workers who hope to benefit from Mrs. Yingluck's populist policies of cheap credit, health care, rice subsidies and huge infrastructure projects.

They are partly financed by wealthy business circles who also benefit from Mrs. Yingluck's expensive policies.

Mrs. Yingluck also has the support of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who won three elections during his 2001-2006 government before being toppled in a bloodless military coup.

Mr. Thaksin lives in self-exile dodging a two-year prison sentence and is trying to get $1.2 billion of his seized cash and assets returned.

Both of those punishments were imposed by post-coup court decisions.

A disastrous and ultimately failed attempt in November by Mrs. Yingluck's government to grant her brother and others with a blanket "amnesty" could have allowed Mr. Thaksin's return without imprisonment, and a refund of his money.

Instead, the clumsy attempt was seen as a way to distort the justice system, and helped spark the current crisis by giving Mr. Suthep a powerful issue to condemn Mrs. Yingluck's administration.

*************

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are
http://asia-correspondent.tumblr.com
http://www.flickr.com/photos/animists/sets
https://gumroad.com/l/RHwa

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