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Bangkok Protesters Demand Reform

  • Ron Corben

Waving flags and placards, Thai anti-government protesters make their way on a street during a march rally from the government complex on the outskirts of the capital to downtown Bangkok, Thailand, Dec. 9, 2013.

Waving flags and placards, Thai anti-government protesters make their way on a street during a march rally from the government complex on the outskirts of the capital to downtown Bangkok, Thailand, Dec. 9, 2013.

Anti-government protesters in Bangkok have succeeded in cutting short the ruling party's tenure, but many say new elections are not enough.

Protesters Monday marched through downtown Bangkok's Sukhumvit thoroughfare, a key artery of the city lined with expensive high-rise apartments, shopping malls and office towers.

As news came that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was dissolving parliament and announcing new elections, Apirak Kosayodin, a Democrat Party member, said the dissolution is merely the beginning of broader reforms.

Bangkok Police Station, map of ministries and police station

Bangkok Police Station, map of ministries and police station

"At least at the first step she would recognize the voice from the Thai people but they still have a further process that she needs to work, or the Thai people need to work together for the next reform," said Democrat Party member Apirak Kosayodin.

​Protest leaders have proposed an unelected council to replace Thailand's democratically elected government until elections are held. The prime minister has rejected the demand as unconstitutional and many observers have said it would be a step backward for one of Southeast Asia's most prosperous and politically open countries.

Related video clip: Thailand Protest


But Democrat Party member Apirak said there is a need for wider social and economic reforms.

"People are really looking forward to the reform process for Thailand to be a much better place, including anti-corruption, decentralization, empowerment for the local government, reform for the education. Thai people will think beyond, beyond even though the government has already dissolved the parliament," he stated.

Such policies on improving education and empowering local government could appeal to voters in the rural north, the traditional political stronghold of the ruling Pheu Thai party.

The party of Yingluck and her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has backed policies that benefit rural Thais, including a controversial rice subsidy that has elevated prices, enriching farmers. But the rice scheme has cost the government billions of dollars and sparked warnings from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it is undermining confidence in the country's finances.

Khun Som, a banker and protester in Bangkok, said the rice scheme is a prime example of the kind of corruption protesters want to end.

"Thaksin do everything for himself; he does not think for the poor people. We want to help the poor people. [But] when they do the rice scheme they only want to get money for themselves - the politician - small amount of money go to the farmer," Khun explained. "The big money go to the politician - we don't want that to continue."

Protesters on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok, Dec. 9, 2013. (Ron Corben for VOA)

Protesters on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok, Dec. 9, 2013. (Ron Corben for VOA)

It is still not clear what reforms could lead to greater government transparency. But many in Monday's protests like Khun 'Dew', a finance sector employee, says the massive turnout marks an important step. "It's a very important day for Thailand because we don't want the Thaksin corruption. I think people should come out and have their right to protest the country," Khun said.

As evening fell on Bangkok Monday, protesters said they would camp out overnight at the prime minister's offices, continuing a rally that has succeeded in dissolving parliament, but failed to provide a clear path for the next step.

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