It is evident by the recent clashes between the Thai police and the anti-government protesters in Bangkok that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is finally running out of good luck. The UN has closed its offices in Bangkok and asked its staff not to leave the complex. The same is true for the diplomats belonging to the rest of the world. This call is given in view of the fact that the anti-government protests that started on Thursday are gradually escalating and taking on the form of a mass movement.
Yingluck is the younger sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, her predecessor in power. Thaksin’s government was overthrown in a royalist military coup in 2006. In the elections that were held thereafter Ms. Shinwatra came to power. The protesters claim that Ms.Shinawatra is only a puppet and the real power still rests with her brother who is currently in exile.
Thaksin, a billionaire-turned-politician is mainly supported by the rural poor known as the”Red Shirts,” and it is because of his popularity in the rural regions of Thailand that his party has not lost an election since 2001. His main opponents are the urban middle class, who view him and his sister as incompetent and corrupt rulers.
The present anti-government protests began when a pro-government demonstration being held by the “Red Shirts” was disrupted by a violent opposition mob, leaving four dead and 110 wounded. It was the worst ever incident of its kind since the 2010 protests during which 90 people were killed.
Thailand has seen as many as 18 coups and attempted coups by the military in its troubled democratic history. In the present scenario the military establishment is neutral but it is also a fact that it was under the auspices of the armed services chiefs that a face-to-face meeting was arranged between Ms. Shinawatra and the opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban, on Thursday. In addition the military high command has instructed the police not to use excessive force against the protesters.
The meeting between the two ended without an agreement. The government of Ms.Shinawatra wants the opposition to call off the protests and to come to the negotiation table, whereas the opposition united under the leadership of Thaugsuban wants the government to resign. After the inconclusive talks the opposition leader issued an ultimatum to Ms. Shinawatra, who it seems has run out of luck, to relinquish power within the next two days. Thaugsuban has also called for a country-wide strike and in addition has given a call for a civil disobedience movement to be initiated against the corrupt government. The opposition has a vague proposal to form a non-elected “people’s council” made up of members of various professions to run the government until fresh elections are held. Due to this impasse, Ms. Shinawatra fearing for her life has left Bangkok for an undisclosed location.
Meanwhile, most of the offices, education institutions and commercial districts of Bangkok remain closed for an indefinite period until some semblance of normalcy appears. Tourism is Thailand’s main industry which contributes 10 percent to the $602 billion economy. According to the political commentators the present protest will scare away millions of tourists and prospective foreign investors. The present crisis in Thailand heralds the end to the rule and with it the good luck Ms. Shinawatra enjoyed for a long time in the echelons of power.
Editorial by Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada