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Thailand crisis rumbles on... and may be gathering pace

Publication Date : 10-05-2014

 

Not satisfied with the fall this week of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, anti-government protesters fanned out across Bangkok on Friday morning to lay siege to Government House, and TV stations deemed sympathetic to the government.

 People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) leader Suthep Thaugsuban denounced new caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, a former IBM and Shin Corp executive, as a stooge of Yingluck's billionaire brother Thaksin Shinawatra.

 Suthep was in yet another "final push" to force the government out of office, derail another election tentatively set for July 20, and thus create a power vacuum that would pave the way for an appointed government. He led a few thousand supporters to Government House.

They marched in fierce summer heat, to the tune of nationalist songs. PDRC leaders said they intended to set up camps at multiple sites again for sustained protests, after confining themselves to downtown Bangkok's Lumpini Park in recent weeks.

Plans included seizing Parliament House in preparation for setting up a new appointed government in a "people's coup."

Suthep gave the government a three-day deadline to "rectify the crisis otherwise the PDRC would do so itself."

Friday's moves came as it became clear that the ruling Puea Thai party would not cave in after losing Yingluck Shinawatra to a court judgement that disqualified her from office on Wednesday. A second verdict on Thursday makes her vulnerable to a political ban and even criminal charges for negligence over the government's populist rice scheme.

But stepping up the pressure is also making the atmosphere more jittery.

Late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, four bomb attacks targeted the Chulabhorn Research Institute - named after Princess Chulabhorn who is seen as supporting the PDRC; Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) which is seen as one of the pillars of the royalist establishment; the home of a Constitutional Court judge, and a defence ministry building. There was some damage but no injuries.

 On Thursday, a clash between pro- and anti-government camps was narrowly averted by police when they stopped some 100 "red shirts" from attacking a protest site of a controversial Buddhist monk who has aligned himself with the PDRC.

 Pro-government "red shirts" are due to mass in another show of strength at the edge of the city on Saturday to ensure the government is not brought down, and elections take place. Red shirt leader Thida Thawornseth told The Straits Times the red shirts would stay at the site "for weeks or months."

 The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce on Friday said its consumer confidence index had sunk to its lowest in over 12 years.

And in an emailed note, Vikas Kawatra, a senior executive at SCB Securities - an arm of Siam Commercial Bank - warned that the crisis now into its sixth month, may be reaching a "tipping point."

"We try our best to stay objective," he wrote.

"Yet our office was hit by two grenades yesterday. Some regarded this act as the start of a violent battle between pro and anti government camps."

 

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