The Thai Government has announced emergency powers ahead of a major anti-government protest rally in Bangkok on Saturday. The government fears violence could erupt at the protest, which police estimate could reach more than 70,000 people, the largest since 2010.
In a nationally televised address late Thursday Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the cabinet decision to impose the Internal Security Act or ISA against the anti-government rally is prompted by fears of violence at the protests.
Yingluck said while the government is ready to listen to protesters, authorities had evidence that violence may be used to overthrow the administration and democratic rule. She said the government would “preserve law and order,” taking steps to “pre-empt and prevent any situation”.
The Internal Security Act, passed in 2008, gives a government powers to impose a curfew, censor electronic media and communications as well as prevent the movement of people and make arrests.
The government has mobilized thousands of police and other security officials, including from provincial areas, to oversee the rally
But a spokesman for the protest group, known as Pitak Siam, accused the government of corruption and denied official fears the rally would instigate violence.
The rally, the second by Pitak Siam, is led by a retired army general, who expects attendance to reach 100,000. Lawyers for general, Boonlert Kaewprasit, also denied earlier reported comments he wanted to see the military take power.
But Sunai Pasuk, a spokesman for the New York based Human Rights Watch, says Pitak Siam appears to be against electoral democracy, a theme raised in Prime Minister Yingluck’s address.
“Pitak Siam clearly has a platform that is anti-electoral democracy; it is against having elected politicians representing people in the parliament, the platform is clear," said Sunai. "The government is now expanding that platform and Yingluck made it very clear in her speech that Pitak Siam is a threat to national security and a threat to public safety.”
The rally could be the largest since 2010 when supporters of Yingluck’s older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup amidst corruption charges and who still remains in exile, rallied in a bid to force the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign.
The six weeks of anti-government protests in 2010 led to bloody clashes with security forces after offers by Abhisit for early elections were turned down by pro-Thaksin supporters. Over 90 people, both protesters and security forces, died and hundreds were injured.
Thaksin remains a powerful influence in Thai politics and a key decision maker behind his sister Yingluck.
Sunai says despite Yingluck’s strong electoral base, especially among the rural and urban working class, the Thai political climate remains brittle.
“The political situation in Thailand remains very volatile given the fact that political violence in the past has been allowed to go with impunity," said Sunai. "There has been no prosecution of anyone committing political violence from all sides. There is a climate of impunity shared among leaders and supporters of all political movements in Thailand.”
The rally comes just ahead of a parliamentary no-confidence debate in which the opposition is set to raise charges of corruption against the Yingluck administration.
Analysts say the political tensions mark an on-going struggle between established elites, bureaucrats and businessmen up against rising new capitalists who became more politically empowered during Thaksin Shinawatra's rule.