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Asia

Bangkok still in state of emergency despite calm

Just over a month after Thailand's military forced an end to anti-government protests that left almost 90 people dead and hundreds injured, the Thai government has still not lifted the state of emergency in the capital.

Bangkok became a battleground when the army moved in to disperse anti-government protesters in May

Bangkok became a battleground when the army moved in to disperse anti-government protesters in May

The emergency powers that effectively limit media freedoms and rights to assembly have remained in place despite calm returning to the streets of the Thai capital Bangkok after the military dispersed anti-government protests in May.

The two months of demonstrations led by the so-called Red Shirts that left at least 88 people dead and up to 2,000 injured continue to divide Thailand, with support for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is accused of funding the protests, remaining strong in the northwestern provinces.

At least 88 people were killed in political violence that engulfed Thailand in May

At least 88 people were killed in political violence that engulfed Thailand in May

In recent days, the security forces have blamed the anti-government Red Shirt movement for several grenade attacks on an empty military oil depot. However, the opposition claims the attacks were staged to ensure state of emergency laws remain in place.

The security forces have said the emergency powers should remain given the uncertain political climate. Eleven key Red Shirt leaders are in jail awaiting court hearings and over 850 Red Shirt supporters are thought to be in detention overall.

By-election will test political climate

The political temperature will be put to the test by a by-election in Bangkok on July 25. A candidate from Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s governing Democrat Party will be pitted against a Red Shirt movement leader, Kokaew Pikulthong, who is standing under the opposition Puea Thai Party banner. He is seen as a moderate within the Red Shirt camp.

Some 850 Red Shirts are currently in jail after being accused of inciting violence

Some 850 Red Shirts are currently in jail after being accused of inciting violence

Mr Kokaew is currently in prison but was allowed to register his candidacy this week before being returned to his cell. He faces charges of terrorism and incitement linked to the April and May incidents.

Sean Boonpracong, a spokesman for the Red Shirts, doubts whether the state of emergency will be lifted in the near future. "I don’t think the government is going to relax that requirement any time soon.

"And that’s a huge disadvantage – the government propaganda machine is in full swing plus Abhisit has threatened to sue anyone who wants to use the April/May incidents for political purposes. I don’t know if that’s dictatorship or democracy. I don't know what to call it."

Analysts foresee relative calm

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is expected to call elections early next year

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is expected to call elections early next year

Sompob Manarangsan, an economist from Chulalongkorn University, is optimistic and thinks the "situation is going to be relatively calm from now on until about the end of the year. It's become much easier for the government to control and manage the situation because we can see that the Red Shirts have become much more defensive – they have many (legal) cases."

However, Kiat Sitteearmon, the president of the Thailand Trade Representative Office and a leading member of Abhisit's Democrat Party, says there are ongoing challenges and it is "difficult to define political stability. We will continue to have political challenges in the future but this is part of democratic development. It's the government's job to deal with anything illegal."

The Thai government has set up several commissions to investigate the bloodshed from April and May as well as panels designed to achieve reconciliation in the country.

Author: Ron Corben
Editor: Anne Thomas

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