BANGKOK – Political tensions are on the rise again in Thailand with the anti-government movement marching through the capital while the prime minister makes final preparations to counter the dereliction of duty charges she faces in front of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on Monday.
Thousands of supporters of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) marched through Bangkok towards the Thai parliament Saturday, blowing whistles and blocking traffic at major intersections – the first major rally since Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled March 21 to nullify last month’s general election.
The PDRC say they want “reform before any elections” as a new national poll is under discussion.
During the march, a group of anti-government demonstrators seized a “Red Shirt” protest site in front of the Anti-Corruption Commission building as protesters threw rocks and the sound of gunfire filled the air.
Red Shirts, mostly rural people from northern and northeastern Thailand, are supportive of the government and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, present Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s elder brother, who led the country from 2001 to 2006 before being overthrown by a coup d’Etat.
Arriving at parliament, protest leader former opposition MP Suthep Thaugsuban stood in front of a statue of King Prajadhipok and said that he would rather “return power to him rather than have the country monopolized by the Thaksin regime.”
Prajadhipok reigned as the last absolute monarch of Siam (the former name of Thailand) from 1925 to 1932, until the monarchy was overthrown by a group of civil servants and military officers and became a constitutional monarchy. Since then, Thailand has remained a constitutional monarchy with an elected legislature and prime minister.
Late Friday, Yingluck used her Facebook page to accuse the Anti-Corruption Commission of being “biased” and “unfair” in its trial of her in a politically-charged case where she is accused of dereliction of duty in relation to a rice-subsidies scheme.
In the post, she underlined that accusations of corruption and political violence filed with the NACC in 2010 against former prime minister and current opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva have not made headway. This, she wrote, is in sharp contrast to her own case which was readied for the final decision of the commission in a mere 21 days.
“I have no alternative but to conclude that as far as the examination of evidence and witnesses in this case is concerned, I have not been treated fairly or received any justice.”
The commission has rejected her request for a 45-day postponement of her defense, and her lawyers have said she will present the commission with a written statement to counter the accusations Monday.
The commission will then have a maximum ten days to decide if she is guilty. If the verdict goes against her, she will be suspended from her post as prime minister and a judicial process will take place in front of the Thai Senate. If the Senate rules against her, she will be impeached.
The rice-pledging scheme was initiated soon after Shinawatra’s Puea Thai party (For the Thais) won the elections in July 2011. Under the scheme, the government bought rice directly from farmers at a price 50 percent higher than the market value. At first, the program was popular with farmers, but ran quickly into hundreds of billions of baht in financial losses (billions of euros). It was also heavily criticized for opening the door to corruption.
She is facing a wave of opposition protests after her government pushed through an amnesty that would have lifted a conviction against her brother, Thaksin – a deeply divisive figure in Thai politics. Thaksin was sentenced for abuse of power in 2008. He left the country shortly before the judgment and has since lived in exile, mostly in Dubai.
Confronted by massive protests, the government withdrew the bill, but the opposition has alleged massive corruption by the government and Shinawatra family.
Yingluck dissolved parliament December 9 and called February 2 elections, which were disrupted by protesters who want an unelected “people’s council” to run Thailand until the political system is reformed in a way which would limit the influence of elected governments and increase the power of independent agencies appointed by magistrates.
Since the beginning of the anti-government campaign in early November, 23 people have been killed and around 1,000 injured.