Are Thailand's antigovernment protests waning?

Bangkok protests entered their fourth day as an anti-corruption agency unveiled an investigation into a controversial subsidy program run by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. 

Sakchai Lalit/AP
Anti-government protesters with national flags gather for a rally Thursday, in Bangkok, Thailand. Reporters on the ground say that protesters' numbers now, on the fourth day of demonstrations, appear to be decreasing in size.

Protests in Bangkok aimed at forcing the government to step down may be dwindling after four days, reports Reuters. But the political crisis is a fast-moving target with many forces in play – including a decision unveiled Thursday by an anti-corruption commission to investigate a government rice-subsidy scheme. The investigation will focus on the role of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and 15 others in administering the subsidy program. 

The street protests are the latest chapter in a long-running struggle between the middle class and traditional elite in Bangkok and the largely poor and rural supporters of Ms. Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Demonstrations flared in November, and reached another critical point on Monday, after opposition firebrand Suthep Thaugsuban led supporters to occupy parts of Bangkok.

Protesters want the prime minister, whose allies have won the previous five election cycles, to resign over charges of corruption, nepotism, and vote-buying. Yingluck dissolved parliament and called for fresh elections on Feb. 2 but demonstrators reject those polls and want her to resign unconditionally.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, told Time magazine that “Thais grudgingly accept a certain level of graft, but the protesters believe Thaksin went beyond mere nest-feathering to the pursuit of 'a monopoly on power and wealth.'”

Protesters Thursday continued to march on government offices, this time the government revenue office, but reporters on the ground say that their numbers appears to have decreased. "People see that the requests of the protesters are impossible under the (law) and constitution," Yingluck told Reuters. "That's why the number of supporters is getting less."

 An apparent dispersal of protesters comes as The Washington Post published an editorial Thursday calling for a stronger rebuke from the US for marches that the paper says has “anti-democratic” aims:

"Popular Demonstrations against democracy are becoming an unfortunate trend in developing countries where elections have challenged long-established elites. The latest case is Thailand, where thousands of people took to the streets Monday to demand that the country’s freely chosen government step down, that an unelected council take its place, and that elections scheduled for next month be canceled,” notes the Washington Post. So far the government has stood firm but it could “use more support from the United States in rejecting an undemocratic outcome to the crisis.” 

It is unclear how the demonstrations will play out. The protests could be reinvigorated by the anti-corruption panel's investigation. At the same time, the government has called for the arrest of opposition leader Suthep. "It's the duty of the police to arrest Suthep because he is wanted for insurrection, otherwise police will face malfeasance charges," Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told the AFP after meeting with the country's national police chief. 

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