BANGKOK– Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra appealed Tuesday for anti-government groups to end ongoing street protests after the parliamentary defeat of an amnesty bill failed to defuse political tensions.
The bill, which critics say was aimed at allowing divisive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to return home from self-exile, was rejected by senators in a unanimous vote late Monday.
Anger over the amnesty proposal saw around 50,000 people cluster in the political heart of Bangkok late into the night, with more than 3,000 anti-government protesters remaining on the streets early Tuesday.
The opposition Democrat Party, which is seen as benefiting from the protests, has called for a three-day nationwide strike starting on Wednesday despite assurances from the ruling Puea Thai party not to revive the bill.
Prime Minister Yingluck — who is Thaksin’s sister — urged demonstrators to reject the strike and end their protest.
“As many of their demands have been met, I plead for those protesting to stop,” she told reporters, appealing to the public to give her government time to run the country.
Thaksin, who is widely believed to control the government from exile, also wants to withdraw the bill, according to his legal advisor Noppadon Pattama.
“We thought the bill would lead to reconciliation… but it was an error of judgement,” he told AFP.
But protesters remained defiant on Tuesday.
Some say they do not believe the government’s pledge to drop the bill, while others want to use the momentum from the amnesty defeat to topple the government.
“I came here because of the amnesty bill and I don’t want this government to be in power… the government is too corrupt,” said protester Tan Thongrit at the capital’s Democracy Monument which has become a focal point for protest.
Experts say the ill-fated bill has damaged Yingluck’s administration and helped the opposition and anti-government groups — who have come out in force for nearly a fortnight.
The visceral reaction to the proposed amnesty has brought a new round of street politics in Thailand, where several bouts of rival protests since Thaksin’s government was deposed in an army coup in 2006 have periodically brought chaos to the kingdom.
“The Democrats are now trying to enable conditions on the street to prod a judicial intervention… to upend Yingluck’s government,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
Predicting the anti-government protesters will try to hold their ground until early December, Thitinan described the situation “as extreme brinkmanship” aimed at “provoking Yingluck’s government into an overreaction”.
Tens of thousands of government-allied “Red Shirts” rallied on Sunday in their first show of force over the question of giving amnesty for politically-related crimes.
Their group, made up mainly of Thaksin supporters, has also been riled by the proposed amnesty, saying it would have absolved key Democrat leaders of blame for their alleged roles in a deadly crackdown on a Red Shirt protest in 2010.
While the Reds are angry at Thaksin and Puea Thai for the amnesty debacle they will take to the streets if necessary to prop-up the government, the group’s leader Thida Thavornseth told AFP.
“Not to protect Thaksin or Yingluck but to prevent a coup,” she said, adding the Reds may rally next week in Bangkok.
Thaksin is a hugely polarising figure in Thailand, drawing great support largely from the rural and urban poor but hatred from many of the Bangkok middle and upper classes.
He was toppled by royalist generals in 2006 and lives in exile to avoid prison for a corruption conviction that he contends was politically motivated.