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5 things you need to know about Thailand's crisis

Published on May 9, 2014 6:00 PM
 

Roads to avoid if you're in Bangkok

SOURCE: BANGKOK POST | STRAITS TIMES GRAPHIC: HIROSHI CHEE


1. How did Thailand get here?

It's a long story, with origins in a power struggle pitting the country's royalist establishment and urban middle class against the supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. It escalated last year, half way into Ms Yingluck Shinawatra's term as Prime Minister. But to rewind :

July 2011 : Former premier and billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra’s photogenic younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra was swept to power with a landslide election win. But she was unable to shake off accusations that she is a mere proxy for her controversial brother who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives abroad to escape a jail term related to abuse of power.

Aug 2013: The ruling party introduced a Bill in parliament, that was believed to favour Thaksin and pave the way for his return to Thailand. The first passage of the bill was marked by minor street protests. 

A Thai anti-government protester waves a large national flag as Thai riot-policemen stand guard at the entrance of a television station during an anti-government rally in Bangkok on May 9, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

Nov 2013: The Bill was passed in a second reading, but after a past-midnight alteration that clearly benefit Thaksin and would enable him to return a free man. Incensed, opposition lawmakers walked out. Street protests broke out mostly in Bangkok, surprising the government with their numbers and intensity. The government withdrew the Bill but the protests gained momentum, raising many tens of thousands, buoyed by a Constitutional Court ruling that Puea Thai party lawmakers acted illegally in passing another Bill to amend the Constitution. Firebrand politician Suthep Thaugsuban resigned from a top position in the opposition Democrat Party to lead the protests. Many in the Democrat Party followed him. Through early December, several were killed and hurt in battles between protesters and police, who were being restrained by the government for fear of being blamed for violence. Prime Minister Yingluck had to abandon her besieged office at Government House. 

Dec 8, 2013: Ms Yingluck dissolved parliament and called an election. Massive protests continued. Pro-Thaksin ‘’red shirts’’ held rallies across their strongholds in the north and north-east. On Nov 30-Dec 1, a mass rally in a Bangkok stadium saw pitched gunfights outside.

January-Feb, 2014:  Candidate registration and advance voting, as well as voting on polling day Feb 2, were disrupted by boycotts and protests by the PDRC.

March 21: The Constitutional Court annulled the Feb 2 election, deepening the crisis.

April 5: Red shirts returned to Bangkok in another show of strength but stayed only two days at the western edge of the city, at a site next to one of the Crown Prince’s palaces.

May 7: The Constitutional Court disqualified Ms Yingluck, forcing her to relinquish office, on an abuse of power charge related to nepotism.
 
 2. So what's next? Will ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra go to prison?
 
It is possible, if criminal charges are filed against her and accepted by the court. But in the normal course, the case will take a long time – possibly years – to resolve. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), and leader of the opposition Democrat Party Abhisit Vejjajiva, both have murder charges against them related to the army’s crackdown on pro-Thaksin ‘’red shirts’’ in 2010 – but are able to live public lives and function normally. Similarly, some red shirt leaders have ‘’terrorism’’ charges against them related to the same period in 2010.

3. Will the July 20 polls go ahead? 

Uncertain. This is still penciled in but essentially up in the air until a Royal Decree is issued. Even then, the PDRC which is determined top prevent another win by a Thaksinite party, has vowed to disrupt it again, as it did the Feb 2 poll which was later annulled by a court.

4. How will new caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan's government fare? 
 
The 66-year-old is low key and respected as a former private sector executive, but also dismissed by Thaksin’s enemies as his stooge. The last vestiges of this government must continue and see the next election in July through, as it offers the only chance to the Shinawatra clan to claim a popular mandate. It is an open question whether it will collapse before that, mostly because there appears to be no legal way to force it out of office. Therefore, extra-legal measures – violence triggering a reluctant army intervention for instance – may eventually see the end of this government, even before the election.

5. Can't the King intervene? 

He has the moral authority but has always been reluctant to do so and stressed the constitutionality of his actions. Article 7 of the constitution appears to give him legal authority in case of a power vacuum. But in a landmark speech to judges in 2006 King Bhumibol Adulyadej said ‘’Article 7 does not empower the King to make a unilateral decision. It talks about the constitutional monarchy but does not give the King power to do anything he wishes. If the King did so, he would overstep his duty. I have never overstepped this duty. Doing so would be undemocratic.’’

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