A major anti-government rally in the Thai capital Bangkok on Monday aimed at preventing the government from passing key constitutional changes. The rally went off peacefully. But political tensions remain high amid fears of a confrontation between anti-government protestors and supporters of the former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thousands of anti-government demonstrators in a final bid to oust the administration
Outside the Parliament in Bangkok, leaders of the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy or PAD stood before thousands of cheering supporters and told them that their protest had prevented politicians from sitting at a joint session. Electrical power to the building had also been cut.
The special session had been called to consider key international conventions and treaties to be signed at next month’s Association of South East Asian Nations – ASEAN – summit.
But the PAD fears the government also plans to pass constitutional amendments to halt investigations and court proceedings against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his family and his supporters.
Thaksin supporters still keen on constitutional changes
Chris Baker, a commentator and author on Thai politics, believes that despite the postponement of the session, the governing People’s Power Party or PPP will still want to press ahead with the constitutional amendments. "The PPP parliamentarians can revert to tactics of holding the session somewhere else which is more difficult for the PAD to block,’’ he says.
The PAD, which seized the government house compound in late August, also sent protesters to block access to the metropolitan police headquarters, as well as key government ministries.
Baker says the PAD’s latest moves add to a climate of potential confrontation between the PAD supporters and those who seek a return of Thaksin to politics. He sees the current showdown as a trial of strength over numbers: "The PAD leaders realised they were up against quite powerful forces. Their key advantage is that their main supporters are in the capital -- they may be fewer than the other side, but they are near the seat of power,’’ says Baker.
Fears of violent confrontations
Recent grenade attacks on the PAD site at government house have left at least two people dead and over 20 wounded.
And according to the spokesman for the opposition Democrat Party, Buranaj Samutharak, fears remain of a violent confrontation between the anti-government protestors and the supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin. Referring to the predictions of violence made by people close to the government, Buranaj says, ‘’I think this is unacceptable. The government must see that this ends immediately because it will only result in heightened fear and escalating conflict.’’
Thaksin is reported to have said in a recent interview that he is looking to return to Thailand and become Prime Minister again. Thaksin was overthrown in a coup in late 2006. He still has strong support in the urban working class and in rural regions. But the middle class accuse the former leader of authoritarianism, and of undermining independent institutions such as the judiciary.