31 March 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- More than 100,000 anti-election protesters
paralyzed Bangkok's key intersections on Sunday (Dec. 22) to hear
their leader, an alleged multiple-murderer, demand February's
nationwide poll be cancelled so he can ban the popular prime minister
and her allies from power.



Some laid cremation wreaths in front of Caretaker Prime Minister
Yingluck Shinawatra's residence to spook her, though Ms. Yingluck was
touring near the Mekong River in northeast Thailand where she derives
most of her support.



Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban describes his "people's revolution"
as democratic.



Mr. Suthep insists that after he blacklists Ms. Yingluck, her wealthy
family, and their allies from politics, Mr. Suthep will clamp Thailand
under a "people's council" of 400 unidentified appointees to "reform"
the entire system of government.



About 18 months later, Mr. Suthep would permit an election to form a
regime which would also empower plenty of other appointees.



A distillation of Mr. Suthep's speeches indicates his scheme resembles
"positive liberty," an antique political theory which claims a
minority of privileged people can tell the majority who to obey,
because otherwise the deluded masses would elect despicable leaders.



Mr. Suthep simultaneously wants to weaken Thailand's police, even
though they are too timid to arrest him on a warrant for allegedly
leading the current "insurrection" -- punishable by life in prison or
lethal injection.



More than 100,000 mostly Bangkok-based middle class and elite
supporters, joined by some southerners, cheered Mr. Suthep on Sunday
(Dec. 22) after thronging his other Bangkok rallies which began on
Oct. 31.



Supporters shoved currency notes into his hands because the Department
of Special Investigation, Thailand's equivalent to the U.S. FBI, said
last week it would freeze Mr. Suthep's bank accounts.



Many mild-mannered Thais poured into the streets and earlier occupied
government buildings not because they love Mr. Suthep, but because
they despise Ms. Yingluck's older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.



"I don't support Suthep as a person, but I am against Thaksin, so
maybe it is time to go to war against those corrupt politicians," said
one Thai who asked not to be identified because he has a high position
in a U.S. government organization.



"Sometimes you have to fight to make things right. An election is not
going to help us. The system needs to be reformed," he said, becoming
angry.



"You see how Suthep's supporters have occupied government ministry
buildings and blocked the streets? Maybe they will block all the
voting booths and occupy the Election Commission building so the
election can't be held," he said.



Candidates can begin registering on Monday (Dec. 23) for the
Parliament elections, but protesters will oppose the registrations.



"If someone hopes to apply as a Member of Parliament candidate, he or
she must pass our rally," Mr. Suthep announced on Sunday (Dec. 22).



"We will block it [the registration office] for half a day, but we
will block everywhere on the February 2 election day," Mr. Suthep
said.



The anti-election protesters oppose Ms. Yingluck's reliance on Mr.
Thaksin who travels in international self-exile while dodging a
two-year prison sentence for corruption.



Meanwhile, this Buddhist-majority country remains beholden to the
military's whims.



In public, the top generals snubbed Mr. Suthep and supported plans for
an election on Feb. 2 for Parliament's House of Representatives.



Ms. Yingluck dissolved the House on Dec. 9 in a failed bid to soften
the protests and prove she holds a mandate to rule, leaving a
half-appointed Senate still in place.



Will the army allow the election and support the new government, which
Ms. Yingluck and her allies are predicted to win?



"We must not look at the situation in Bangkok, alone, but see what is
happening in the provinces," Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha warned
on Friday (Dec. 20).



"The division is in all tambons [sub-districts] and the situation
could trigger a civil war," said Gen. Prayuth who played a role in a
2006 coup which toppled Mr. Thaksin, even though he won three
nationwide elections.



Some Thais fear the military may use the political confrontation as a
excuse to postpone the polls, shove politicians aside, and let Mr.
Suthep or his allies seize power in a quasi-civilian coup.



After the 2006 coup, the military supported Mr. Suthep and the
seemingly bland Abhisit Vejjajiva, who eventually became prime
minister.



Thailand's Criminal Court recently agreed with the Office of the
Attorney General to indict Mr. Suthep and Mr. Abhisit for premeditated
and attempted murders allegedly committed in 2010 when Mr. Suthep was
deputy prime minister in Mr. Abhisit's unpopular government.



The charges involve their relationship with the military, which opened
fire on protesters who demanded both men resign so Mr. Thaksin could
return to power.



At least 90 people died during the nine-week, often violent protest by
pro-democracy Red Shirts and others, and most of the dead were Reds
and other civilians.



Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep deny the charges.



All sides accuse the other of extrajudicial killings, massive
corruption, greed, and authoritarian policies.



Mr. Thaksin is criticized for negligently presiding over his "war on
drugs" in 2003, which resulted in 2,800 deaths under murky
circumstances never fully investigated.



Mr. Thaksin denied responsibility.


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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)