Thailand's governing Democrat Party, lagging behind in national polls ahead of the July 3 general election, stepped up its campaign by staging a rally at the site of anti-government protests last year. The rally location is an emotional one.
Party officials say the Democrats chose to hold their biggest campaign rally at a major Bangkok shopping area to explain the government’s side of last year’s political unrest, which left more than 90 people dead and hundreds wounded.
Thousands of party supporters gathered Thursday evening at the Rajaprasong intersection.
For two months last year, the United Democratic Front Against Dictatorship, or Red Shirts, made Rajaprasong a protest zone. They set up a stage at the center of the intersection, and camped along the roads.
The military crushed the protests on May 19 last year after Red Shirt leaders rejected an offer for early elections.
"We think it's time for us to tell what really happened during the demonstrations of last year, because every day we keep on getting bombarded with all these signs from Red Shirts saying what happened to the 91 corpses and so on. So I think this is a perfect time to come and say 'hey this is what happened,’" said Isra Sunthornvut, the deputy secretary general to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
A recent Human Rights Watch report criticizes the government for not holding anyone responsible for the deaths and injuries caused by both security forces and protesters.
Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said that no one died at the center of Rajaprasong last year.
However, many of those killed were at the camp area or a Buddhist temple nearby.
He also showed a video in which armed protesters are seen attacking security forces.
UDD and their allies in the Pheu Thai party play down the role of the militants. They reject charges that protesters deliberately set fire to buildings after the military moved in.
The Red Shirts largely support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006.
His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, now leads the Pheu Thai party and could become the country’s first female prime minister.
Many Red Shirt leaders were angered by the Democrat’s rally at Rajaprasong and called on supporters to avoid the area.
But Finance Minister Korn Chitikavanij says the party chose Rajaprasong as a gesture to the wider community.
"We don't want Rajaprasong to necessarily be remembered just as an intersection where Red Shirts held the rest of Bangkok and effectively the rest of the country hostage for two months. We want to use this as a symbolic place in order to send an important signal to all of Thailand that the events of last year must not be repeated," he said.
Voter polls put the Pheu Thai Party ahead of Mr. Abhisit's Democrats nationally. Election officials, however, say up to a third of eligible voters remain undecided.