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Thailand In Turmoil
The Government's Secret Weapon?

An anti-government protester waves a Thai national flag while standing atop a police vehicle outside the Government House in Bangkok on December 9, 2013. Courtesy INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images

After days of mounting protests, and just before thousands of peaceful demonstrators occupied the grounds around her empty and forlorn office, Thailand’s prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra finally gave in: she announced she would dissolve the lower house of parliament and hold a new election in early February. This would appear to be a massive win for the protestors and their leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister who resigned from parliament at the beginning of this would-be revolution. But Yingluck’s announcement might be her party’s secret weapon to defeat the protestors.

How so? Despite what seems to be a massive movement to unseat Yingluck, she and her Pheu Thai party remain popular throughout the country—indeed, it’s highly likely that PT will win the February elections, as it has done in all five general elections since 2001. The protesters in Bangkok—hundreds of thousands of them—are a minority when you look at the entire country, which has a population of 66 million. In the north, which is home to millions of relatively poor farmers, the PT is broadly popular, thanks to expansive public subsidy and wealth-transfer programs. It has swept all national elections in the north since 2001, several times by large margins. The opposition, by contrast, has done very poorly at the polls in this area.

Thus Thaugsuban and his protestors were understandably disappointed in Yingluck’s announcement. The opposition wants power now; they are proposing a “people’s council,” an unelected body of “good people” that would appoint the country’s rulers by decree. They want to destroy the Shinawatras—Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin, who has been living in exile instead of serving time in jail for a graft conviction—who they see as corrupt managers of an inefficient, unrepresentative government. “I hate her government because they’re dishonest,” one protestor told the BBC. “They spend our money, our tax money on Shinawatra businesses and their networks.”

The protestors have vowed to press on. “The dissolving of parliament is not our aim,” he told Reuters. “From this minute onwards, all Thais have taken power back for the people,” he said in an evening speech in Bangkok today. It’s unclear if the opposition will take part in the elections in February. Its politicians resigned en masse from parliament to join the protestors weeks ago, and they refused to participate when Thaksin, then the prime minister, called for snap elections in a similar situation in 2006.

Much depends on the Thai army, which has attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years. So far it has tried to remain neutral, a mediator. In 2006, however, five months after Thaksin called for new elections, the army overthrew him. Will history repeat itself for his sister?

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  • Anthony

    Thai politics has always displayed a capacity to swing suddenly. The King’s 86th birthday has passed and now contretemps can resume – deeper problems will not be easily dismissed by Yingluck’s current maneuver.

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