News / Asia

Thai Political Conflict Reaches Stalemate

Protesters against the government-backed amnesty bill hold Thai national flags as they march in central Bangkok November 14, 2013.
Protesters against the government-backed amnesty bill hold Thai national flags as they march in central Bangkok November 14, 2013.
Ron Corben
Thailand’s current protests and political conflict appear to have reached a stalemate, with street protests receding after the government was forced earlier this week to back down from a blanket amnesty bill. Protest leaders have attempted to spur the demonstrations by calls for strikes and social disobedience.

Attendance at opposition rallies was sharply diminished Thursday after the Thai Senate annulled a controversial amnesty bill earlier in the week, and despite protest leaders' threats to escalate the rallies.

In the financial district of Silom, tens of thousands had gathered last week to protest against the blanket amnesty bill rushed through Parliament by the governing Pheu Thai Party. Now, just a few hundred people are pressing the government to stand down as they call for fresh elections, along with other demands for constitutional reform.

Miss Gunn, an office worker and rally supporter, said she wanted the government to listen to the people's concerns and address their issues. She said it was the duty of the people to protest against the bill and other issues, and the government needed to listen and not make decisions on their own.

Critics of the amnesty bill accuse Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government of abusing its majority in the House of Representatives after making last minute amendments to a bill initially aimed at low level protestors from Thailand's political conflict in recent years.

The amendments extended amnesty to cover incidents from 2004 to the present and included cases of corruption. The new bill was seen as favoring former leader Thaksin Shinawatra - older brother of the Prime Minister - to return to Thailand and escape corruption charges. Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid a two year prison term for corruption.

Other government members, including the prime minister, also would be shielded from corruption investigations into populist economic policies since taking office in 2011.

Business and civic groups opposed the bill, saying it would undermine the rule of law.

But efforts to prolong the protests with calls for a three-day strike and acts of civil disobedience have failed to receive popular support.

Protest figure and opposition Democrat Party deputy leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, said he plans to call for an escalation of  the protests later this week.

Prime Minister Yingluck and several business leaders have called for an end to the rallies amid fears of economic damage to the economy. Foreign investors have also been seen pulling back from Thai shares and securities.

Some Democrat Party members, such as Kraisak Choonhavan, a former senator, say the protests appear to be running out of steam. He is concerned, though, that the Democrat Party has failed to find a "soft landing" from the issue. "My feeling is that yes its running out of steam but there's enough heat around that it can go on for a few days. I don't know for how long but in my opinion I think a major victory has been won by the opposition and it shows that it does have the support. I think standing down would be the best option."

Gotham Arya, a rights activist and lecturer at Mahidol University, said Thailand's political climate remains fraught. "There's no immediate cooling down or heating up so I'm not sure about the possible direction. I understand the frustration and the grievances of the demonstrators. On the other hand, it seems to me that they don't have any concrete proposals. Whether they want to continue and cause the downfall of the government one way or the other or they would be content with some lesser success."

Analysts and political commentators also have been calling for the opposition to accept the political victory ahead of threatened rallies by pro-Government Red Shirt supporters. The political uncertainties have led to travel warnings by more than a dozen countries for their nationals to avoid protest sites in Bangkok.

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