Thai protesters occupy ministries in disobedience campaign

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra faces mounting protests over a controversial amnesty bill. Antigovernment protesters have occupied government facilities. 

Sakchai Lalit/AP
Anti-government protesters sit inside the Finance Ministry building in Bangkok, Thailand, Nov. 25, 2013. Protesters entered the ministry compound Monday in an escalating campaign to topple the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

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Antigovernment protesters in Thailand have entered two government buildings in Bangkok and are calling for the occupation of others in an attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over a controversial amnesty bill that failed to pass. 

Traffic ground to a halt and dozens of schools were shut today as 30,000 protesters marched in the city, chanting “get out,” reports Reuters.

An estimated 100,000 demonstrators gathered on Sunday night, led by former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban. Mr. Suthep said protesters would fan out to 13 locations today, including the interior ministry and office of city administration, reports Bloomberg News. Demonstrators broke into the foreign ministry and the finance ministry compounds, meeting little resistance. 

“We will walk to those state officials to ask them who they will serve, the illegitimate government or the public,” Mr. Suthep told protesters today. “If those state officials refuse to serve the government, the government will crumble.”

The focus of the demonstrations shifted this week from opposing the amnesty legislation to ending the government’s rule, reports Bloomberg. Critics said the amnesty law would have swept aside corruption and human rights charges dating back to the fall of her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire businessman and twice-elected premier. 

Prime Minister Yingluck faces additional protest over her party’s attempt to make the senate fully elected, which was rejected by the Constitutional Court last week. The bulk of her support comes from highly populated areas in the north and northeast, and the change could have strengthened her government.

"This week is precarious. The options are very limited for the government," Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, told Reuters.

Mr. Thaksin has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 after fleeing corruption charges, and was ousted in 2006 in a military coup. Yingluck is accused of running a government that’s actually controlled by Thaksin from afar.

"The amnesty reinforced the perspective that Ms. Yingluck's administration and Mr. Thaksin are inseparable, so that has provided a cause for the anti-Thaksin elements to regroup and restart the protest," Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, told The Wall Street Journal.

"I have no intention to resign or dissolve the House," said Yingluck, who faces a no-confidence debate tomorrow. Pro-Yingluck and pro-Thaksin supporters gathered at stadium about 9 miles away from the heart of the anti-government protests. The Associated Press reports that many fear there could be a violent face-off between the two groups, as the pro-government supporters have said they won’t disband until the opposition calls off its demonstrations.

“We will not stop even if she dissolves parliament or resigns,” Suthep told protesters. “We will create a real democracy with the king as the head of state.”

Thailand has seen a cycle of protest over the past few decades, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Street protests have shaped modern Thai politics. In 1973, students in Bangkok overthrew a military dictatorship, with support from King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a constitutional monarch. In 1992, protesters faced down an unpopular junta leader. King Bhumibol intervened to mediate after troops killed unarmed protesters.

The rise of Thaksin, a rich businessman who built a mass political base, changed the equation. Instead of opposing a dictator, the [People’s Alliance for Democracy, which laid the groundwork for the 2006 coup] mobilized against a popular, elected leader. When it succeeded, its rivals took to the streets and used the same tactics.

The result is a cycle of protests and counterprotests that has polarized public opinion along class and regional lines and undermined parliamentary democracy.

This week’s protests began after almost two years of relative calm. According to Bloomberg the protests have highlighted Thailand’s societal fissures:

The political upheaval has revealed rifts in Thai society, particularly between the traditional elite and the increasingly vocal rural majority from which Thaksin’s allies pull their electoral mandate. Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party and its coalition partners command a majority in parliament.

The government raised minimum wages last year and introduced a program in 2011 to buy rice at above-market prices to boost rural incomes. Thailand’s skillful macroeconomic management, strong fundamentals, high international reserves, and moderate public debt levels have blunted the impact of recent shocks and are underpinning a recovery, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund said Nov. 12.

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