News / Asia

Thailand's Suthep: Dissent Crusher Turns Protest Leader

Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy premier leading the protest, waves to his supporters during an anti-government march to the Government complex in Bangkok, Thailand, Nov. 27, 2013.
Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy premier leading the protest, waves to his supporters during an anti-government march to the Government complex in Bangkok, Thailand, Nov. 27, 2013.
Reuters
In 2010, the last time Thailand was gripped by large-scale anti-government protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, then deputy prime minister, was the man wielding the sword.
 
The Democrat Party politician authorized a crackdown by security forces that left downtown Bangkok burning and killed scores of red-shirt supporters of his arch-rival, Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist former prime minister who was overthrown in a 2006 coup.
 
Now, just three-and-a-half-years later, Thai politics has flipped. Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is the prime minister. This time, Suthep is on the outside, leading protests aimed at bringing down Yingluck's government.
 
And this time, he thinks, Yingluck could not use force to stop him, even if she tried.
 
“I believe Yingluck doesn't have the authority to order the police or military to do anything,” Suthep told Reuters at Bangkok's Finance Ministry, which has been occupied by protesters since Monday. “They've realized she's a prime minister that doesn't obey the rule of law.”
 
The emergence of Suthep as a protest leader betrays how just a few personalities - and their grudges - drive Thailand's political soap opera, with its cycle of violent protests and interventions by the judiciary, military and palace.
 
Since resigning from parliament this month along with eight other members, the wily, silver-haired politician from Thailand's south has emerged as the firebrand voice of anti-Thaksin forces, a motley collection aligned with Bangkok's royalist civilian and military elite.
 
He projects himself as champion of the dispossessed rubber farmers from his home region and of Bangkok's middle classes in speeches that have energized protesters flooding Bangkok's streets by the tens of thousands, in an echo of “yellow shirt” protests that helped to bring Thaksin down.
 
A warrant has been issued for his arrest after thousands of his supporters swarmed the Finance Ministry. Along with former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, he faces murder charges over the 2010 crackdown.
 
He has characterized the protests as a movement to eradicate the network of the now self-exiled Thaksin from Thailand's political system. How that will happen and whether it entails intercession by the judiciary or the coup-prone military is unclear.
 
He dismissed suggestions of an alliance with the military, a major force in politics since Thailand became a democracy in 1932. The military has staged 18 coups - some successful, some not - and made several discreet interventions in forming coalition governments, almost all with the tacit backing of the royalist establishment that now reviles Thaksin.
 
“We hope this will be a movement of the people to temporarily seize hold of the governance of Thailand,” he said.
 
Backroom dealmaker

 
Suthep says parliament, now controlled by Yingluck's Puea Thai Party, should be suspended and replaced by a “people's parliament” directly elected by the public and free of politicians - except for himself and his fellow recently resigned MPs.
 
He wants to make provincial governors directly elected, and institute reforms of the corruption-plagued police and bureaucracy.
 
Although Thaksin or his allies have won every election of the past decade, he says that reflects rampant vote-buying, which he says his “temporary administration” would end.
 
Such revolutionary language jars with Suthep's long political pedigree. Until just a few weeks ago, the 64-year-old former shrimp-farm and palm-oil magnate had held a seat in parliament since 1979. He served in cabinet as Communications Minister and twice as Deputy Agriculture Minister.
 
In 1995, a scandal involving his land reform program caused then-Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai to dissolve the House rather than face a no-confidence vote. Suthep was criticized for allegedly giving land rights to the wealthy under a reform scheme intended for the poor. He denied the charge but resigned.
 
Ironically, the ensuing political storm swept Thaksin into politics.
 
Over the years, Suthep developed an image as a consummate politician. A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2008 described him as his party's “backroom dealmaker”.
 
“He maintains contacts in all camps, including the military,” the cable said. “He has reportedly had direct contact with Thaksin after Thaksin was deposed as prime minister,” the cable said. He has denied such contacts with Thaksin.
 
Thaksin is toxic

 
Suthep's followers are galvanized by the alleged excesses of Yingluck, her brother and their policies, including a runaway multibillion dollar rice-subsidy scheme seen as an attempt to lock in the support of farmers.
 
Even more galling, he said, was an attempt to put forward a broad-ranging amnesty bill aimed at securing the return of Thaksin, who was sentenced to two years in prison in absentia for corruption. The opposition Democrats have bitterly opposed the bill, despite a sweetener that would have seen the charges against Suthep and Abhisit dropped.
 
The Democrats for their part have played a delicate game, attempting to ride in the slipstream of anti-government sentiment while at times distancing themselves from the rallies.
 
“I have no idea what Suthep means by a 'people's parliament,'” said Korn Chatikavanij, a senior Democrat member and former finance minister. “We think the best way to find a solution to all of this is for the government to resign and dissolve parliament.”
 
But he said the Democrats and the protesters “share a common belief that Thaksin is toxic for Thailand.”
 
At the protest, participants appear to be similarly wary of connecting their movement to the opposition party.
 
“Before, [Suthep] was like any other politician. We wouldn't say he's very good,” said Kochamakorn Homglee, who has joined with a group of stay-at-home mothers from Bangkok's posh Harrow International School, where Yingluck also sends her son.
 
“But now he's a hero.”

You May Like

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs