Thailand’s Prime Minister resisted calls on Friday from the military to resign over bloodshed that occurred last week when police fired tear gas and small explosives at anti-government protestors outside parliament. The political landscape remained tense and uncertain.
Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat
In a press conference on Friday, Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat refused calls from the military to step aside and take responsibility for the bloodshed that happened during an anti-government protest last week.
Two people died and more than 400 were injured on Oct. 7 when Thai border patrol police and other police opened fire, using tear gas and explosives to disperse thousands of protestors outside parliament.
But Somchai said he would continue to “work hard” and needed to “consider the benefits of the public." He added that the government would evaluate investigations into the bloodshed before taking its next step.
His response came less than 24 hours after Thailand’s senior military commanders had called for him to resign on national television.
Clear message from the military
Suthichai Yoon, an executive editor with the Nation media group, said the military’s appearance on TV had sent a clear message to the government.
“The army felt enough pressure from overall society to come out in public to show where it stands and to declare in effect that the government is no longer legitimate.”
“This a rare act of defiance -- nothing short of saying that the armed forces have stepped back -- have withdrawn support from the government.”
In his broadcast commentary, Suthichai said he believed the military wanted a transitional government to take over the reins of power for up to two years.
So far, however, the military, has denied any intentions of staging a coup -- including those members who appeared on television.
Very high-risk game
Chris Baker, an author and commentator on Thai politics, said he expected renewed political pressure amid fears of an escalation in the street protests against the government that have been going on for weeks now. Baker said the government was playing “a very high-risk game”.
Somchai is the brother-in-law of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled to Britain in August in the face of court cases on charges of corruption. Thaksin, his wife and close supporters have been charged with several counts of corruption when he was in power from 2001 to 2006. The country’s courts have issued several arrest warrants.
Baker thought Thaksin was a key reason for Somchai’s determination to remain in office and continue his efforts to halt the investigation and court processes: “The priority is to try and overthrow as much of the court process as they can. That means they have to hold the current attorney general in place and get rid of the asset committee work [investigating Thaksin] -- and if they can do those two things then Thaksin will go scot free.”
The party that Somchai leads, the People’s Power Party or PPP, is currently at risk of being dissolved for electoral breaches, and is also facing other political threats.
Government should dissolve parliament, says opposition
Korn Chatikavanij, the deputy leader from the opposition Democrat Party said the government should simply dissolve parliament and seek a fresh mandate.
“There are so many traps and obstacles. Frankly, they are not in a position to lead the country and the right decision for the country would be dissolution. It would be the right decision for the country -- I hope they make that decision as quickly as possible.”
Thailand’s political landscape has been unsettled ever since 2005 when protests began within the urban middle class against perceived abuses of power by Thaksin.
The military ousted Thaksin in a coup in 2006. Since then, Thaksin has been seeking to work his way back into political life as well as fighting corruption cases against him. But the middle class fear his return to power would lead to a repeat of the past abuses.