BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's U.S.-trained military appears to support next February's endangered election, and oppose a right-wing insurrection bent on destroying the government, seizing power, blacklisting politicians, and cancelling the polls.

The blockades and sit-ins, mostly by Bangkok's wealthy and middle class, are also trying to prevent poorer urban and rural voters repeatedly electing politicians who the comparatively well-off protesters despise.

In some ways, the protesters can be perceived as Thailand's "opulent minority" against the working class, wrote analyst Apivat Hanvongse.

Another commentator said the goal of the insurrection is to clamp this poorly educated Southeast Asian country under a closed system of "elites electing elites to rule the majority."

Wedging itself into this split is the military.

Army generals, including some who participated in a bloodless 2006 coup, are mediating between the protesters' rich and loudly threatening leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, and the damaged government of Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Ms. Yingluck is vulnerable and beholden to the military's mood swings because the 2006 coup toppled her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr. Thaksin, a billionaire cheered by many marginalized and poor people, won three elections and became the most popular prime minister in Thailand's history.

After hearing Mr. Suthep describe his dictatorial "people's revolution" and politburo-style "people's council" of unidentified appointees to replace Ms. Yingluck's elected government, the Royal Thai Armed Forces indicated on Sunday (Dec. 15) their support for nationwide elections scheduled for Feb. 2.

Permanent Secretary for Defence, Gen. Nipat Thonglek, described the armed forces' stance at a government-sponsored forum titled, "Which Way Thailand Will Go," on Sunday (Dec. 15).

Mr. Suthep boycotted the forum and criticized Gen. Nipat as biased toward Ms. Yingluck and her brother.

Mr. Suthep meanwhile boasts that the police fear him and cannot arrest him on a warrant for insurrection.

He flaunted his apparent immunity by waltzing into a meeting with the military on Saturday (Dec. 14), hoping to convince Supreme Commander Gen. Thanasak Patimaprakorn not to support the prime minister or February's election.

Gen. Thanasak however told Mr. Suthep, "The best way is to engage in dialogue and choose the best path. Everyone must exchange with each other, instead of turning their back to each other.

"Do this and, I believe, there will not be a civil war," Gen. Thanasak said.

Embarrassingly, National Police Chief Gen. Adul Saengsingkaew refused to attend.

"If I took part in this meeting, and did not make the arrest [of Mr. Suthep], I would be violating Section 157 of the Criminal Code for negligence of duty," the police chief said.

Why not arrest Mr. Suthep?

"I don't want to make the situation worse than it is," Gen. Adul told reporters.

The United States and more than 35 other countries expressed concern about Mr. Suthep's protests and said their governments want the street clashes to end so an election can be held.

The American Embassy is currently commemorating the 180th anniversary of U.S. relations with Thailand, which is a major non-NATO U.S. ally.

Mr. Suthep's supporters said Washington was "interfering" in Thailand by supporting Ms. Yingluck and by criticizing protesters for storming and occupying several government ministries and other official buildings.

Mr. Suthep's supporters include the opposition Democrat Party which boycotted a pre-coup 2006 election which Mr. Thaksin won.

The Democrats also lost a 2011 poll which brought Ms. Yingluck to power.

Mr. Suthep wants to cancel those 2011 results and force Ms. Yingluck's immediate resignation.

"The prime minister must quit, so the people's council can be set up in the vacuum," Mr. Suthep told Gen. Thanasak on Saturday (Dec. 14).

Mr. Suthep also threatened to stop February's election.

He would allow an election only after his council's unidentified appointees permanently banish from power Ms. Yingluck, Mr. Thaksin and their relatives, plus all their political allies.

"Suthep Thaugsuban is basically asking the country to ditch democracy and hand over power to a shadowy, appointed 'people's council' for an undetermined length of time," said the staunchly royalist Bangkok Post's Sunday (Dec. 15) editorial.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) -- Thailand's version of the U.S. FBI -- is considering to indict Mr. Suthep on the filed charges of "insurrection," punishable by lethal injection or life imprisonment, for his role in the sometimes violent protests.

While occupying official buildings, Mr. Suthep's supporters allegedly looted government computers, hard drives, smartphones and databases from the DSI, the Finance Ministry, the Technology Crime Suppression Division, and other departments.

Some predict those confidential documents could appear in WikiLeaks-style exposes.

Mr. Suthep's anti-election protests began on Oct. 31, and resulted in five deaths when supporters from both sides fought in Bangkok's streets.

Ms. Yingluck dissolved Parliament's House of Representatives on Dec. 9, leaving a half-appointed Senate in place.

The Feb. 2 elections would restore the House.

Ms. Yingluck's popular Pheu Thai ("For Thais") party, and its coalition partners, are expected to easily win re-election.


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:

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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)