News / Asia

    Thai Caretaker PM: Elections First, Then Reforms

    Thailand's interim prime minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan gestures during a news conference at the Permanent Secretary of Defence in Bangkok, May 12, 2014.
    Thailand's interim prime minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan gestures during a news conference at the Permanent Secretary of Defence in Bangkok, May 12, 2014.
    Demonstrators trying to bring down Thailand’s beleaguered government left behind their encampment in a Bangkok park and set up a new base near the traditional seat of government on Monday. But the caretaker prime minister, speaking to reporters for the first time in his new role, insists elections remain the best way forward.
     
    Protesters set out from Lumpini Park Monday in a now familiar march through the city, making their way to a new camp near the United Nations main office, the Army headquarters and the Government House compound.
     
    Ministers of the weakened government are nowhere near the primary government complex, which has not been used by it for months amid large protests.

    The interim prime minister is working out of an office in a distant suburb.
     
    Caretaker PM addresses media

    Niwatthamrong Boongsongpaisan, who assumed office last week, was asked by foreign correspondents Monday why authorities are not moving against those leading the anti-government movement.
     
    “We don’t want violence to happen. We don’t want any killings. We don’t want to hurt anybody,” he said.
     
    The caretaker leader insists that “by law we are legitimate to stay on until we have the new elected government.”
     
    Niwatthamrong expressed hope that a meeting between the caretaker government and the election commission, scheduled for Wednesday, would agree on a July 20 date for nationwide polling.
     
    But the main opposition Democrat Party has no given no indication that it will participate.

     
    Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, left, poses for a photograph with a supporter during a rally, May 8, 2014 in Bangkok.Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, left, poses for a photograph with a supporter during a rally, May 8, 2014 in Bangkok.
    x
    Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, left, poses for a photograph with a supporter during a rally, May 8, 2014 in Bangkok.
    Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, left, poses for a photograph with a supporter during a rally, May 8, 2014 in Bangkok.
    Protest leader Suthep Taugsuban has rejected the appointment of the caretaker and had called for the Senate, along with judges and the election commission to appoint a new one. But there appeared to be little support for the proposal among the judiciary.
     
    A spokesperson for the protesters, Akanat Promphan, contends the group’s plan is the only way to resolve the impasse.
     
    “We’re just hoping that those that have the power - for example the Senate - will come together with the people and try to find a quick solution by establishing a new functioning government that will be able and have the pose to resolve all the problems and also push forward reform,” said Akanat Promphan.
     
    Demonstrators' plan rejected


    The Center for the Administration of Peace and Order, known as CAPO, a combined force of police and soldiers, rejects the plan, saying the country already has a caretaker prime minister.  
     
    CAPO spokesperson Sirima Sunawin says trying to invoke Article 7 of the Thai constitution in this manner is not only misleading the public.
     
    “Their demand is not only illegal, but also intensify conflicts among groups in the society which may lead to violence, confrontation and even a civil war,” said Sirima Sunawin.
     
    When reporters asked interim prime minister Niwattamrong if the county could split apart, he replied, “I don’t think we’ll have civil war.”

     
    Members of the pro-government "red shirt" group take part in a rally in Nakhon Pathom province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, May 11, 2014.Members of the pro-government "red shirt" group take part in a rally in Nakhon Pathom province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, May 11, 2014.
    x
    Members of the pro-government "red shirt" group take part in a rally in Nakhon Pathom province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, May 11, 2014.
    Members of the pro-government "red shirt" group take part in a rally in Nakhon Pathom province, on the outskirts of Bangkok, May 11, 2014.
    About 15 kilometers away from the occupied Government House grounds, pro-government “red shirt” supporters are also rallying.
     
    The distance has meant, so far, there have been no clashes between the rival groups.

    Army in "wait-and-see" mode

    There is widespread anticipation that any violence between the two could lead to intervention by Thailand’s powerful and respected military.
     
    The army has launched 18 coup attempts since the early 1930s.
     
    Generals, in recent weeks, have insisted another coup is not the solution to the country’s political infighting. The army chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha was quoted on Saturday saying that any action by soldiers would only come as a “last resort.”

    That comment came a day after a key figure in the “yellow shirts” street protests that led to a 2006 coup, Sondhi Limthongkul, told a street rally “a coup is not always a bad thing if it changes the nation for the better.”

     
    FILE - Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra greets the media upon his arrival at the Siem Reap International Airport in Cambodia, April 14, 2012.FILE - Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra greets the media upon his arrival at the Siem Reap International Airport in Cambodia, April 14, 2012.
    x
    FILE - Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra greets the media upon his arrival at the Siem Reap International Airport in Cambodia, April 14, 2012.
    FILE - Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra greets the media upon his arrival at the Siem Reap International Airport in Cambodia, April 14, 2012.
    The roots of the current trouble go back to 2006 when street demonstrations led to the military removing prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The telecommunications tycoon turned politician still enjoys broad support in Thailand’s agrarian north. Many urban elites fiercely oppose him and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, elected prime minister in 2011.

    She was forced out of office by a court decision last week which her supporters regard as a “judicial coup.” They also contend that Niwattamrong, as a former executive of a now defunct TV station owned by Thaksin, is influenced by the ex-prime minister.

    The ongoing political crisis in the kingdom is prompting concern domestically and abroad about the country’s long-term stability.

    Foreign ministers, at a summit in Naypyitaw of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Sunday, called for Thailand to resolve its political troubles through talks by respecting democratic principles and the rule of law.

    Thailand was the only ASEAN country not represented by its government’s leader at the summit.

    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Video Somali, AU Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    Somalia’s Western backers frustrated over country’s slow progress in establishing its armed forces to bring security after 25 years of chaos

    Israel Makes Push for Gaza Strip Recovery

    After years of economic blockade and attempts to disable Hamas, Israeli leaders eventually realized that Hamas’ downfall could lead to chaos or the rise of a more radical Jihadist group

    Slump in Chinese Tourists Hitting Hong Kong Retail

    Mainland Chinese account for up to three-quarters of visitors to Hong Kong, but that number is falling, and shopping centers are struggling to 'shift gears' and maintain sales

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shababi
    X
    Henry Ridgwell
    April 28, 2016 4:20 PM
    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Town Receives Refugees but Lacks Resources

    A wave of refugees is pouring into the Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria as a result of fighting between rebel forces and Islamic State militants. VOA’s Amina Misto went to the town and reports local authorities are finding it difficult to cope with this influx of internally displaced people. Bronwyn Benito narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Build Human Tissue on Animal Matrix

    The question has always been, if a gecko can grow back its tail, why can't we regenerate our lost body parts? Well, maybe we can, someday. Scientists are moving towards the ability to rebuild fully functioning organs, and have made significant progress replacing muscles and other tissue.
    Video

    Video Containing Chernobyl Radiation Continues 30 Years After Explosion

    April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Hundreds were killed following the explosion and it's estimated that thousands more have died from cancers caused by the radiation. Henry Ridgwell traveled to Chernobyl and reports for VOA on the continuing efforts to decommission the site -- and on the fledgling plans for a new future in the vast exclusion zone.
    Video

    Video Frustration Builds Among Refugees Trapped at Macedonian Border

    On the Greek border with Macedonia, 12,000 refugees continue to wait. Since the route to the rest of Europe was closed last month, the makeshift camp at Idomeni has seen protests and tear gas. But while those here wait, their frustration grows — as do reports of people attempting to find new ways of continuing their journey. John Owens reports from Idomeni.
    Video

    Video Researchers: Bees Help Kenyan Farmers Fend Off Elephants

    Elephant crop-raiding continues to be a major source of human-wildlife conflict in Kenya, so one elephant researcher is helping to alleviate the problem near Tsavo East National Park with beehive fences, which use elephants’ natural aversion to bees to deter them from farms. VOA’s Jill Craig visited the area ahead of this month's Giants Club Summit, which will bring together dignitaries at Mount Kenya to find solutions to combat poaching, the No. 1 threat to elephants.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora