Anti-government protest in Bangkok fails to garner mass support | Connect Asia

Anti-government protest in Bangkok fails to garner mass support

Anti-government protest in Bangkok fails to garner mass support

Updated 26 November 2012, 16:04 AEST

Opponents of Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have launched a no-confidence debate in parliament, just a day after political protests turned violent in Bangkok.

The opposition Democrat party has accused the Prime Minister of being influenced by outside forces and they claim her administration is controlled by them; a veiled reference to Ms Yingluck's brother, the ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

An anti-government protest organised by Pitak Siam was eventually called off at the weekend because police and troops were preventing demonstrators from reaching Royal Plaza where the rally was being held.

Scores were injured and 137 arrested during the confrontation.

So is Thailand heading into another period of prolonged political turmoil?

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

THITINAN: On the day, yes it was police who prevented some of the people to reach the rallying point, but there also were not as many people as had been anticipated, part of the reason is because there was no sound pretext to organise this rally. This rally followed an earlier rally on October 28th. The protesters wanted to maintain momentum, but it didn't really have a pretext or a just cause to bring down a government at this time.

Now, four years ago, as you remember, we had an airport closure, we had a similar protest by a same Coalition who assembled for the past couple of days. Those people had better leadership, they had a pretext, they had a Prime Minister, a proxy of Thaksin who was an easier target. Yingluck is not an easy target. She doesn't play ball. They protesters did not have good leadership and also they didn't have a cause at this time.

EWART: Now, can you tell us a bit more about this organisation which is calling itself Pitak Siam? I mean is this a new movement or is this an old movement under a new name?

THITINAN: It is an ongoing movement under a new manifestation. You mentioned turmoil. This is not a new turmoil in Thailand. We've had ongoing protracted crisis and confrontation at the end of the reign. This is the end of the glorious reign of His Majesty, the King, and I think a lot of people are anxious and apprehensive about what's to come. The Pitak Siam is a Royalist conservative coalition who reject Thaksin, but the problem that they have is they cannot win elections. The best thing for them to do and for Thailand is to try to somehow come out on top at the polls. This means that they have to go back to the Democrat Party somehow and to try to work through the electoral system and not put their hopes, not rely on the judiciary, on the army, on the palace to try to oust the ruling Government and put in their people.

EWART: So against that background we have this prospect of a no confidence motion against the Prime Minister. Is that motion likely to go anywhere do you think?

THITINAN: Unlikely. We've had no confidence motions in Thailand in the past. Very few occasions have they turned out to be something. Normally they would just be a part of a spectacle, an entertainment for the general public. The reason is because our parliamentary system, on the surface, you have elections and have parties, but we don't have debts. We don't have debts and the strong parliamentary committees, parliamentary mechanisms to make the government accountable and transparent and therefore the no confidence motions in the end, it depends on a number of members of parliament and the government has support of the MPs and thereby it always and almost always escape the censure debate.

Now, what we need to do is to improve that system and not rely on extra parliamentary solutions and to improve that system, we have to make the politicians more accountable and many things we need to do to improve and bolster the parliamentary process.

EWART: Now, in terms of the accusation that's obviously not a new accusation being made against Yingluck Shinawatra, that she's being influenced by outside influences. I mean as long as, of course, she continues to better the name Shinawatra and her brother is outside the country there will always be this claim I presume that he is somehow pulling the string?

THITINAN: Yes, absolutely he is pulling the strings. Thaksin Shinawatra, her brother is the remote control leader of Thailand. The party that rules Thailand Pheu Thai is his party. He makes decisions on cabinet appointments and so on, but she has more autonomy and latitude now. With the last reshuffle, I think that over the past year-and-a-half almost, she has gone into her own, she's more confident, but yes, she is the flipside of Thaksin.

In Thailand, we are so divided. Many people don't accept Thaksin and for many good reasons, because he's corrupt, he's abused power and so on . But he keeps winning the elections and therefore we have to somehow think about that and somehow a deal has to be made with him, some kind of accommodation, understanding, otherwise they'll be no end to this.

In the meantime, Yingluck has served Thailand very well in being a bridge. Many people don't like her because they don't like her brother, but they have to ask themselves, if not Yingluck, anyone else will be worse and she in fact has been rather measured, tempered, detached and she has shown very good temperament here. She has reached out to different stakeholders and so far, holding the ground in favour of electoral outcomes. At the same time, she has not further antagonised Thaksin's opponents. So I see her, Yingluck, as someone that could be instrumental, perhaps decisive in (word indistinct) Thailand's divide going forward.

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