31 March 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- 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.


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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:



Asia Correspondent



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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)