Inside Story

Will protests overthrow the Thai government?

We ask what role will the country's army and monarchy play in resolving the ongoing political crisis.

Last updated: 04 Dec 2013 12:54
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Demonstrations in Thailand entered their 10th day on Tuesday, after police were ordered to stand down, and allow protesters into government buildings.

Thai democracy, even if we are facing a minor crisis, is far from Iraqi or Egyptian model and I believe in the long run if we survive this, democracy would take a long time home.

Sean Boonpracong, national security adviser and former international spokesperson for the Red Shirts

The protesters want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her government to resign even as opposition politician Suthep Thaugsuban, gave her until Tuesday to decide.

But Shinawatra has dismissed all demands for her to step down. And in her reaction to the current crisis she said, "Even though the situation has not returned to normal, the situation has been easing so far. The government has urged police and military officers to respond without violence.

"I would like to ask all academics, businessmen and all people including the protesters to take part in brainstorming to find the answer. The solution will reform the country under His Majesty the King," she added.

There is only one figure that unites everyone in the country, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who will turn 86 on Thursday. He is respected by all Thais and is seen as a uniting force in the country. 

So, can the monarch be instrumental in any truce?

The demonstrations in Thailand are being led mainly by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, who is now wanted on charges of treason.

One has to understand Thailand is completely dominated by Bangkok …. For years, the power and decision making has been dominated by the elites in Bangkok in alliance with older aristocratic families and army. Now what has happened in over the last 20 years is that the significance of rural is growing more in terms of political power.

Tim Forsyth, specialist in Southeast Asia at the London School of Economics

Thaugsuban says the fight is far from over, "You can rest assured that this is a victory that is only partial and not a complete victory because the tyrannical Thaksin government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra endures. We cannot go home. We must continue fighting."

The opposition believe the prime minister is acting in the interests of her older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was a Thai business tycoon making his billions with a telecommunications monopoly and stock-market fortune.

He was Thailand's prime minister for five years but was deposed in a military coup in 2006.

And though he is currently in exile in Dubai, he is said to still have considerable influence in his home country.

A generation apart, Yingluck Shinawatra, the current prime minister, returned to Bangkok in the 1990s, to first work in the family business.

She later went on to win a landslide election in 2011, becoming Thailand's 28th prime minister. But now she faces strong opposition after having easily survived a no-confidence vote in parliament last week.

Another important player in the current political crisis is, Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is the leader of the Democrat Party. He is a former prime minister who was routed by Yingluck in the 2011 elections. Vejjajiva joined the protests on Friday.

Then there is the military, a powerful institution in Thailand. Its leaders have remained neutral so far, but what happens next could rest on who they decide to support.

So, can popular protest overthrow the government in Thailand? And will the army move in or will the prime minister be forced to resign?

Inside Story presenter Divya Gopalan discusses with guests: Sean Boonpracong, National security adviser and former international spokesperson for the Red Shirts; Tim Forsyth, specialist in Southeast Asia at the Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics; and Anik Amaranand, member of Thai parliament. 

"A lot of young people have come out to demonstrate which was unexpected but very promising .... We have a lot of people coming from up country and not just areas where we are strong but also in the north and north east. They are coming to join protest or doing their own protests within the provinces .... Things are changing."

Anik Amaranand, member of Thai parliament


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