The Thai Prime Minister, Samak Surdaravej, vowed against standing down on Tuesday and threatened rally organizers with legal action unless the protests dispersed. The Prime Minister’s warnings came after protestors had laid siege to the government’s administrative building and other offices; briefly halting a state owned TV broadcasts after protestors broke into the station’s studios.
Demonstrators outside Government House in Bangkok
The tough stance taken by Samak followed a day of protests by the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that was supposed to be a D-day, which would finally push the seven-month-old government to step down.
For over three months, PAD rallies have been pressing the government to either alter its policy direction or step aside. The PAD, which comprises largely of urban middle-class Thais, has long accused the Samak government of acting as a nominee for the ousted former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin was overthrown in a bloodless military coup in 2006. He then spent months in self-imposed political exile. But he returned to Thailand in February, after his political allies won the December 2007 elections, hoping to face down charges of corruption.
Earlier this month he and his wife fled to Britain during key court proceedings over charges of abuse of power and corruption, saying that they would not receive a fair trial.
Subsidised by Thaksin
Chum Lelalyuwa, an advertising producer in Bangkok who attended the protest, said the government was trying to use the budget to assist Thaksin’s return to Thailand: “The government here is subsidised by Thaksin anyway. So they will try to use all the money and then we won’t have any money, then Thaksin will try to come back.”
Art Skulkan, a graphics designer, also accused the government of corruption and abusing the budget through major spending programmes: “They’re corrupt. They took all the money for each other.”
Other protestors, such as Ms Nanthana, believe that Thaksin remains the force behind the government, despite his flight into exile in early August: “We don’t want the Samak government because it’s very corrupt. Thaksin is not really gone -- he’s a billionaire and he exploited Thailand and took everything. He’s got lots of money so he can pull the strings. Thaksin is behind everything and Samak is a nominee -- he does everything for Thaksin.”
Tensions high but not violent
Ms Nanthana also rejected government claims that the anti--government protests could turn violent: “These guys are non-violent; this comes from the heart -- these people have come because they want to make the country better. If we want violence we would have done that on the first day. It’s hard you know [to demonstrate], in the sun, in the rain -- it’s hard.”
Tensions remained high throughout the day after a group of 80 anti-government activists broke into the studios of a state TV channel and briefly halted broadcasts. Other acts of civil disobedience included efforts by protestors outside Bangkok to halt inbound traffic into the capital.
The fresh political uncertainties also made investors very nervous and caused the index at Thailand's stock exchange to fall as the threat of violence loomed.