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Yingluck presents 'softer side' against Suthep

Publication Date : 03-12-2013


In the complex chess game of Thai politics, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is positioning herself as being conciliatory and open to negotiations in contrast to intransigent protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, analysts say.

As Suthep urged protesters to brace themselves for more tear gas today, a solution to the latest political crisis remains elusive, leaving businesses in jitters.

Sugree Sithivanich, a senior official at the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said some 300,000 foreign visitors so far have cancelled their visits, which will cost Thailand US$498 million in lost tourism revenue.

It will be difficult to say what will happen, said Chulalongkorn University political science professor Pitch Pongsawat.

"Suthep might win tomorrow," he said. "But there could also be some kind of pause on the king's birthday on Thursday, when all will try to interpret his speech in their own favour - and after that, there will be a long fight."

Increasingly frail King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who will turn 86, is in Hua Hin, but birthday celebrations will be held in Bangkok. Many Thais assume political tensions will abate momentarily.

"The government does not need to rush or set itself deadlines. It can wait. Maybe tomorrow or the day after, there will be a break, and after that, we will see if the protesters hold together," Cabinet minister Chaturon Chaisang told The Straits Times.

"And if the protest drags on, we'd have to see the public's response," he added.

Referring to Suthep, he said: "What Suthep wants can only be accomplished by a coup d'etat, and I don't think the army chief wants to stage a coup."

The opposition Democrat Party politician, already indicted for murder over the deaths of civilian protesters when his party was in power in 2010, is facing a fresh charge of insurrection. Last night, he said he would not return to politics but would "fight with the people", urging them to seize the national police headquarters today.

His self-styled People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) has, in recent days, stormed government compounds and is laying siege to government house - the office of the prime minister - and police establishments.

Its demand is for Yingluck, whom it views as a puppet of her billionaire brother Thaksin Shinawatra, to step down and hand power to a "people's council" - something she said on Monday was not possible under the Constitution.

The PDRC has also rejected fresh elections, saying that will not solve the problem of corruption and the dominance of what it calls the "Thaksin regime".

The army is known to be reluctant to launch a coup as the administration it appointed post- Thaksin was found to be inept. This spawned a backlash in the form of the pro-Thaksin "red shirt" movement which helped power Yingluck to the premiership during elections in 2011.

The army is believed to have brokered a meeting on Sunday between Yingluck and Suthep, who gave her two days to step down.

"In holding the press conference, Yongluck showed she is still here and still the prime minister, quashing rumours she had fled the country," said Pitch.

"She tried to present herself as the soft side of the conflict, saying she was willing to step down and call an election. But the other side (Suthep's side) needs something that is beyond the Constitution."

The conflict will not end soon, said Chaturon, as it is "almost impossible to resolve the problem through parliamentary means".

An independent analyst close to the opposition Democrat Party who did not want to be named said: "The military is waiting to see how this all plays out... (Suthep) sees the destruction of Thaksin as the main aim rather than addressing broader social issues." The protesters attacking the police are "out of control", he warned.


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