22 September 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Security forces and six million residents are
worriedly preparing to survive a 19-day "shutdown Bangkok" protest
beginning on Monday (Jan. 13), designed to topple the elected
government amid fears that the military may help the urban
insurrection by staging a coup.



Street clashes have killed at least eight people during the past two
months of protests leading to the shutdown which plans to cripple
Thailand's government and economy until the end of January.



Tens of thousands of anti-election protesters plan to erect huge
stages and makeshift defensive structures at several key
intersections, congesting the heart of Bangkok.



"Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can turn
confrontational, and can escalate into violence without warning," the
American Embassy said on Tuesday (Jan. 7) in an e-mailed "security
message for U.S. citizens" describing the upcoming shutdown.



Thousands of people staged a "practice" march in Bangkok on Tuesday
(Jan. 7), cheering the stocky protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban,
thrusting cash into his hands, and begging for his autograph.



"Bring your clothes and food with you, because we will fight for
months until we achieve victory," Mr. Suthep earlier told 150,000
supporters.



The protesters are denounced by their enemies as "sore losers,"
"fascists," and "pro-dictatorship."



In turn, the protesters describe the government as "vote buyers" who
are imposing a "tyranny of the majority."



A front-page headline in the royalist English-language Bangkok Post on
Tuesday (Jan. 7) described a "Coup Panic" within the government
because "the military has emerged as the key player".



"The military does not shut, nor open, the door to a coup," Army Chief
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a recent Bangkok Post interview.



"Anything can happen, depending on the situation," said Gen. Prayuth
who played a role in a bloodless 2006 coup.



Academics, politicians, and local media warn that this major non-NATO
U.S. treaty ally could implode into "civil war" if a coup is launched,
because the U.S.-trained military suffers dangerous political
divisions.



A post-coup civil war could also erupt because tens of thousands of
pro-democracy Red Shirt activists would likely mobilize to fight for
their right to vote and protect the government they helped to elect.



The protest includes elements of a class war waged by monarchists and
traditional elites who have convinced Bangkok's middle class and some
southerners that their urban insurrection is the only way to achieve
power.



They are ballot box losers because their poorly led opposition
Democrat party candidates have been unable to produce a prime minister
through nationwide elections since 1992.



Many protesters despise the prime ministers that poorer northerners,
urban laborers, and wealthy "new money" business interests are able to
elect.



Today, the Democrat party is allied with protesters boycotting the
nationwide Feb. 2 election which would replace a dissolved House of
Representatives in the bicameral Parliament.



Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's popular Pheu Thai ("For
Thais") party and their coalition are expected to easily win.



Many urban protesters also discriminate against Thailand's north and
northeastern rural ethnic Lao-Thais, perceiving them as uneducated,
easily corrupted, and unqualified for equal voting rights.



Some analysts warn that Thailand could become regionally split, with
protesters controlling Bangkok and the south, while pro-democracy Red
Shirts and others dominate the north and northeast.



Protest leader Mr. Suthep is dodging an arrest warrant for multiple
murders allegedly committed in 2010 when he was deputy prime minister
in the previous government.



Mr. Suthep allegedly acted in concert with the military to crush a
pro-democracy uprising in Bangkok's streets which tried to oust Mr.
Suthep and then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.



More than 90 people died in 2010, most of them Reds and other
civilians, including at least two innocent people who now comprise the
alleged multiple murder case against Mr. Suthep and Mr. Abhisit.



Despite forming a military-backed government through an internal
Parliamentary vote in 2008, Mr. Abhisit's Democrat Party lost the next
nationwide election in 2011 which brought Ms. Yingluck to power.



The murder charges may be one element prompting Mr. Suthep's protest
which is fueled by hate-filled, demagogic rants.



If Mr. Suthep's protest -- or a coup supporting him -- ousts Ms.
Yingluck, it could hamper the murder investigation and court
proceedings against Mr. Suthep.



"We have never called for a military coup," Mr. Suthep declared on
Sunday (Jan. 5). "We are going to stage our own people's coup."



Authorities recently issued an additional arrest warrant for Mr.
Suthep for leading thousands of people to forcibly occupy government
buildings and commit other violations in an "insurrection," which is
punishable by life imprisonment or lethal injection.



Police appear unable or unwilling to arrest Mr. Suthep amid fears it
could spark widespread violence by his supporters.



During the past two weeks, protesters blocked 29 candidates from
registering in the south for the election, amid clashes which left at
least three people dead.



Ms. Yingluck's fugitive billionaire brother, former prime minister
Thaksin Shinawatra, is meanwhile criticized for his "war on drugs"
during his 2001-2006 administration which left more than 2,500 people
dead.



Those extrajudicial killings were never fully investigated, and no
charges have been laid.



After the 2006 coup toppled the popular Mr. Thaksin, he was convicted
of abuse of power and sentenced to two years in jail -- which he is
dodging by living abroad -- and $1.2 billion of his assets were
seized.



Mr. Thaksin has been heavily involved in helping his sister run the
government, and is a target of protesters' anger.



Mr. Suthep, Mr. Abhisit, Mr. Thaksin and the military deny every
allegation of wrongdoing, and said they acted within the law.


-------------------------





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)