Protest leaders have vowed to continue their demonstrations but have yet to offer a viable plan for running the country
The decision on Monday by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's embattled prime minister, to dissolve parliament and call a snap general election seems unlikely to cure the latest violent spasm gripping the Bangkok body politic, stemming from more than a decade of indigestible north-south, rich-poor social divisions and visceral personality politics.
Despite the PM's ostensibly placatory announcement, protest leaders and opposition parties vowed to continue mass anti-government demonstrations, suggesting the proposed 2 February poll amounted to a trick to perpetuate the rule of the Shinawatra "regime". But so far they have failed to come up with a viable alternative plan for running the country.
The standoff threatens further to undermine democratic governance in a country where military coups have been commonplace and where parties defeated in elections have rarely accepted their fate with grace or dignity. Some Thai political scientists, in the style of America's Tea Party, are now claiming that winning the most votes is not necessarily the most important qualification for legitimately holding political office.
Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy PM who leads the protests, said early elections would make no difference. "The dissolving of parliament is not our aim," he said.
Suthep has instead been calling for a new prime minister to be chosen by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand's ageing and influential monarch. He has also floated a proposal for an appointed "people's council" comprising "decent men" whose main task would appear to be the reconfiguring of the electoral system to ensure Yingluck, and her exiled elder brother and former PM, Thaksin Shinawatra, never again hold political power.
Suthep suggests his Platonic wise-men oligarchy would eventually give way to an elected government, but has not said how long this would take. Opportunistic opposition parties, who also abhor Thaksin and his kin, have shown a similar lack of responsibility. In 2010, then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of an unelected government installed by Thaksin's opponents, survived a similar wave of street protests by pro-Thaksin "red shirts". He had the army to thank for his rescue; about 90 people died during the unrest.
Now Abhisit, leader of the main Democratic party opposition, is also refusing to say whether he will participate in the proposed February election. Most opposition MPs resigned from parliament on Sunday. "House dissolution is the first step towards solving the problem," Abhisit said. "Today, we march. I will walk with the people to Government House."
Yingluck's decision to allow Thailand's 66 million-strong population what is effectively a referendum on her Puea Thai government, which won in a landslide result in 2011, looks statesmanlike on the face of it, but is not quite what it seems.
"The government does not want any loss of life … At this stage, when there are many people opposed to the government from many groups, the best way is to give back the power to the Thai people and hold an election. So the Thai people will decide," she said in a televised speech.
Yet the near certainty that Puea Thai will win again accounts for Suthep's and Abhisit's reluctance to go down the electoral route. While the opposition can count on support from middle-class Thais in Bangkok and the non-Muslim areas of the south and from pro-establishment royalists, they have been permanently outnumbered, electorally speaking, since Thaksin first won office in 2001 backed by the poorer, rural masses of the north and east.
A telecoms billionaire whose populist presumption deeply offended traditional Thai hierarchies, Thaksin was deposed during his second term in 2006 by an army coup and fled the country two years later amid corruption and bribery allegations.
Thaksin now lives in exile in Dubai, from where, his detractors allege, he controls the Bangkok government from a distance. The present unrest was sparked last month when Yingluck proposed an amnesty law that would have allowed her brother to return.
Yingluck might also be congratulated for avoiding the violent clashes that have disfigured previous upheavals, and for keeping the army out of the fray. Thailand's military has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years, and is no stranger to political meddling.
On the other hand, the generals, like the king, are no friends to the Thaksin clan. This time around, the army has said it does not want to get involved, although it has tried to mediate.
Both sides have invoked the authority of the king to boost their positions. Both observed a truce last Thursday, the monarch's 86th birthday. But the reality is that Bhumibol is ill, frail and rarely seen. Nor is it wholly clear that the monarchy will survive his passing. Thais must find another way out of the blind alley into which they have blundered.
About 160,000 protesters gather in Bangkok calling for 'people's council' to replace Yingluck Shinawatra's government
Thailand's prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, dissolved parliament on Monday and called a snap election, but anti-government protest leaders pressed ahead with mass demonstrations in Bangkok in an attempt to install an unelected body to run the country.
Police estimated that about 160,000 protesters converged on Yingluck's office at Government House, but there was none of the violence and bloodshed seen before the demonstrations paused last Thursday out of respect for the king's birthday.
The protesters want to oust Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the former premier who was toppled by the military in 2006 and has chosen to live in exile rather than serve a jail term for corruption.
There was a carnival atmosphere as protesters gathered at Government House, with unarmed police and troops inside. In a speech to supporters after nightfall, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said: "From this minute onwards, all Thais have taken power back for the people."
He gave no clues about his next move or how exactly he planned to take over the levers of government. Aware that allies of Yingluck and Thaksin would almost certainly win any election, Suthep has called for a "people's council" of appointed "good people" to replace the government. As such, he dismissed the early election. "The dissolving of parliament is not our aim," he said.
Opposition Democrat party politicians resigned en masse from parliament on Sunday, declaring they were unable to work with Yingluck. The Democrat leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, sidestepped a question on whether his party would take part in the election. "House dissolution is the first step towards solving the problem," he said as he marched with thousands of flag-waving protesters in Bangkok's central business district. "Today, we march. I will walk with the people to Government House."
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, of Kyoto University's centre for south-east Asian studies, said an election in which the main opposition party did not take part would not end the deadlock. "This is only a short-term solution because there is no guarantee that the Democrats will come back and play by the rules," he said. "It seems like Thailand is going nowhere."
In April 2006, amid mass protests, the Democrats refused to contest a snap election called by Thaksin, who was deposed by the military five months later.
Yingluck announced the election in a televised statement. "At this stage, when there are many people opposed to the government from many groups, the best way is to give back the power to the Thai people and hold an election. So the Thai people will decide," she said. The government said the vote would be held on 2 February.
Suthep's campaign opens up the prospect of a minority of people in Thailand dislodging a democratically elected leader, this time without help from the military. The politically powerful army, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years, has said it does not want to get involved, although it has tried to mediate.
The protests follow nearly a decade of rivalry between forces aligned with the Bangkok-based establishment and those who support Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon who won huge support in the countryside with pro-poor policies. Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid the corruption conviction but is seen as the power behind his sister's government. The protests were sparked last month by the government's attempt to introduce an amnesty that would have expunged his conviction.
The pro-establishment Democrat party has not won an election since 1992. Yingluck's Puea Thai party won the last election, in 2011, by a landslide, enjoying widespread support in the north and north-east, Thailand's poorest regions.
Jarupong Ruangsuwan, the head of Puea Thai, said Thailand's first female prime minister would stand again. "We want the Democrat party to take part in elections and not to play street games," he said.
Somchai Kasemporn, 51, a practitioner of traditional medicine from Bangkok and one of the protesters who marched to Government House, dismissed Yingluck as a lame duck. "The question is: does she even have the legitimacy to dissolve parliament? This is all about a crooked man, Thaksin, who rules for profit and thinks that because he has votes, he is the winner," he said.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said he was concerned that the Democrats had thrown in their lot with the extra-parliamentary movement, and predicted pandemonium if Suthep won the battle.
He also worried about the reaction of the pro-Thaksin redshirts, whose lengthy protests against the Abhisit government in 2010 were put down by the military at the cost of more than 90 lives on both sides. "When they [the government] unleash the wrath of the redshirts, that could signal dark days ahead for Thailand," Thitinan said.
Ukrainian Dmytro Kolot, 30, was in the van and called a Russian friend in Phuket, Oleg Spitsin, to report the accident.
“Dmytro was sitting next to the driver. Read more...
“Nothing has been changed. It has been the same since 2008. Read more...
Acting on a tip-off from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Customs officers from Bangkok came to Phuket to assist in the arrest, Phuket Airport Customs Director Montira Cherchoo explained.
“Mr Florin departed Sao Paulo, Brazil, on December 4 bound for Dubai. Read more...
The protesters, however, vow to carry on protesting until the People’s Council proposed by Suthep Thaugsuban, the former deputy prime minister and protest leader in Bangkok, is set up.
The whistle-blowing, flag-waving, ribbon-wearing crowd continues to grow as protesters from all over Phuket, including government workers, hospital staff and students gather in front of Phuket Provincial Hall (map Read more...