Briefing: Why Thai protesters are taking to the streets again
Antigovernment activists plan to defy a tough security law to rally Saturday on the third anniversary of a military coup.
Antigovernment protesters are gathering Saturday in Bangkok to mark the third anniversary of a military coup against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. At least 30,000 are likely to attend the rally, defying the use of a tough internal security law that allows troops to make arrests.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The protesters will wear red shirts and voice support for Mr. Thaksin, who is living in exile. In April, armed troops put down violent protests in Bangkok by the red shirts after they had disrupted a regional summit. Some of the leaders of the movement face criminal charges.
Last year saw rival yellow-shirted protesters occupy government buildings and two airports. That group has since formed a political party and is loosely aligned with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva, who took office last December after the courts dissolved a pro-Thaksin administration.
Since the coup, Thailand has been held hostage by its fractious politics, to the alarm of the US, a longtime ally. Its Army is also battling a growing Muslim-led insurgency in its southernmost provinces.
What do the protesters want and how much support do they have?
They have called for Mr. Abhisit to dissolve parliament and hold elections. More broadly, the leaders say they are fighting for social justice and accuse powerful elites in Bangkok of undermining democracy.
The red-shirt movement isn't well organized and relies heavily on Thaksin's popularity to galvanize supporters. But it has tapped into the anger among rural and working-class voters over the coup and subsequent events. A recent petition for a royal pardon for Thaksin got 3.5 million signatures.
Analysts say pro-Thaksin lawmakers would probably win if elections were held today. At the last elections in December 2007, the now-defunct People's Power Party won 233 out of 480 seats in parliament.
The reds lost credibility, though, when the April protests descended into chaos. Some liberals are turned off by Thaksin, a billionaire businessman who won landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005. Last year he was convicted of abusing power, and his two terms were shadowed by human-rights abuses.
After nearly four years of upheaval, Thais are disenchanted by politics in general: only 31 percent think the country is moving in the right direction, according to a survey by the Asia Foundation.
Who was behind last year's protests? Could they start again?
The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) wears royalist yellow and was formed in 2006, when Thaksin was in power. Its leaders include a media tycoon, a former mayor, and a trade unionist. Its followers are mostly conservatives who fear losing privileges under strong elected governments.
Last year, the PAD held nonstop protests for several months. It draws support from the upper and middle classes in Bangkok and southern Thailand (though not the insurgency zone), as well as from individuals in the palace, military, and civil service. While largely peaceful, it had armed security guards.
The protests peaked with the weeklong seizure of Bangkok's two airports. After the courts dissolved the government, the PAD told its supporters to go home. It later registered its own New Politics party.
In April, PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul survived an assassination attempt that he blamed on rogue Army officers. No arrests have been made.