Thailand government faces new pressure to ease Thai protests

After weeks of Thai protests calling for the government to resign, the country's military chief and electoral commission weighed in.

David Longstreath/AP
Antigoverment demonstrators climb over destroyed military vehicles as they celebrate the Thai New Year Tuesday, near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand. Antigovernment protesters threatened Tuesday to unleash another street 'offensive' against Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government unless he dissolves parliament and steps down.

Despite a deadly face-off with the military over the weekend, antigovernment "Red Shirt" protesters in Thailand vowed to continue their protest until the government resigns. The country’s ruling party is also facing pressure from the electoral commission over reportedly misusing campaign donations.

If the government does not step down, it could possibly be forced to do so by Thailand’s constitutional court. The electoral commission will give its recommendation to the attorney general, who will then decide whether to pass the case to the country’s highest court. While this procedure normally takes as long as six months, legal officials say they will expedite it. The court has the power to dissolve the ruling Democrat Party and ban Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from politics.

Thailand has a history of standoffs like this, so the legal system is equipped to deal with them. The constitutional court removed Somchai Wongsawat as prime minister in 2008. If the court successfully intervenes in the standoff, many people in Thailand say it will provide a clear way to restore the rule of law and peacefully end the standoff in such a way that is good for protesters and the embattled prime minister, reports the Financial Times.

“This is a very good opportunity for this country to rearrange the system, to return to the rule of law,” said [Chaturon Chaiseng, an opposition politician who many believe could be a future prime minister].

If the courts intervened to dissolve the Democrat party, Mr Abhisit would no longer be in office, but it would also mean that he would be saved from being seen to have given in to the protesters' demands.

If the court system does not successfully intervene to end the protests, many Thais are worried about how far the turmoil could escalate.

Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley reports from Bangkok that in the past 18 years, the military has intervened in 18 coups. After it was unable to break up protests on Saturday, the country’s top military commander, Gen. Anupong Paochinda, made a statement saying that it may be necessary to also dissolve the country’s parliament to bring an end to the country’s turmoil. The statement was largely calculated to reassure the Thai people that the military was still strong enough to intervene if necessary, reports Mr. Birtley.

However, there is also much tension between the Thai people and the military after 21 protesters were killed on Saturday. On Monday the US government issued a warning to citizens about traveling to areas with protests, which are set to continue during Thai New Year celebrations from April 13-16. Autopsies from the weekend deaths show that some of the protesters were killed by gunfire from close range, meanwhile security forces insist that while they did fire live ammunition during the protests, it was only into the air, reports China Central Television.

The Macau Daily Times reports that the government is investigating the incident and has entered into negotiations to ensure that the protests can come to an end without any further violence.

Although protesters have insisted that they are unwilling to compromise with the ruling government, the BBC reports that Thailand’s foreign minister said he was “optimistic” that all parties would be willing to enter into negotiations within a few days.

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