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Q&A: Bangkok Protests

Q&A: Bangkok Protests

As thousands of demonstrators camp out in Bangkok to demand the resignation of the government, the BBC looks at what lies behind the protests.

Who are the protesters?

The people demonstrating in Bangkok are members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) – a loose grouping of royalists, businessmen and the urban middle class.

They want the government led by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to resign, because they say it is a proxy for ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration.

The PAD loathe Mr Thaksin with a passion, accusing him of corruption and abuse of power.

The same group organised the massive street protests in Bangkok that preceded the 2006 military coup which forced Mr Thaksin into exile.

Why is Mr Thaksin still important?

The billionaire businessman remains banned from politics in Thailand, and is currently in the UK. He flew out of Thailand in early August to avoid corruption charges, when it began to appear as though he could face jail.

But despite the fact he is no longer in the country, the PAD insist he remains the power behind the People Power Party (PPP) – which emerged from the ruins of his banned Thai Rak Thai party to win the most votes in last December’s general election.

The PAD argue that the PPP is no more than a front for Mr Thaksin’s political ambitions. Many believe he finances the party.

The PAD say that Mr Samak is a puppet and Mr Thaksin is pulling his strings.

Instead, the PAD are seeking a largely appointed parliament and a legalised role for the military as a kind of referee in Thai politics.

Why do the PAD hate Mr Thaksin?

Thai prime ministers never used to last very long or have that much power. But then Mr Thaksin came along and began changing the face of politics.

His populist policies attracted enormous support from rural areas. He was the first prime minister to serve a full term in office and his lawmakers dominated parliament.

Thailand had a new, unorthodox leader – and the old elite felt threatened. Mr Thaksin’s power base was too wide, they felt. They accused him of corruption and nepotism.

Some of his detractors also accused him of competing with Thailand’s much revered monarch, King Bhumibol, for the heart of the nation – something Mr Thaksin roundly rejects.

Are the public behind the PAD?

Thai society is deeply divided. The rural poor still strongly support Mr Thaksin, and the PPP won by far the most votes in the elections last year.

It is probably fair to say that many of those who backed the PPP did so because they wanted Mr Thaksin – and his populist policies – to return.

Mr Thaksin remains highly unpopular among the urban elite.

However, the current protests are nowhere near the scale of the ones that preceded the coup in September 2006. The protesters are confined to a relatively small area of Bangkok.

Many urbanites – even if they do not like the ruling coalition – are also fed up with months of political instability.

And as food and fuel prices continue to rise, most Thais want a stable government that will tackle the economic issues close to their hearts.

So what now?

Mr Samak says that as a democratically chosen leader – elected in December’s polls – he has a mandate to govern.

He says he is independent of Mr Thaksin, and rules out resignation.

Analysts say the military will be reluctant to intervene. The military’s attempt to govern Thailand after its September 2006 coup was not seen as a great success, and there is little public appetite for another coup.

While the supporters and detractors of Mr Thaksin and the current government continue to argue their case, many Thais are becoming increasingly unhappy at the long-running instability.

With Mr Thaksin overseas, many will be hoping that the government will just be allowed to get on and govern.

The Bangkok Post described the PAD’s move as a "last whistle blow".

If the PAD wanted to bring down the government it should do it in parliament, the "proper democratic place to do it", the daily said.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/7584005.stm

Published: 2008/08/27 11:27:58 GMT

Categories: News and politics
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