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Extra security for PM and VIPs

Posted by Nuttapon_S On February - 1 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Fear of clashes at polling stations; ballot boxes yet to reach many areas in South

Extra security will be provided for certain government figures, including the caretaker prime minister and some political VIPs tomorrow when they go to vote.

The move came amid rising concern of possible clashes and violence between anti-government protesters and supporters of the government.

Ballot boxes and papers have also not reached local election offices in many areas, particularly in the South, due to a blockade by protesters. And there is a severe shortage of officials to man polling stations after many of them resigned.

Meanwhile, the Civil Court refused to issue an injunction yesterday to suspend the state of emergency, pending a judicial review of the case against the government’s imposition of the emergency decree.

The court reasoned that the situation did not warrant an injunction as requested by Thaworn Senneam, a leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). Thaworn filed the suit with the court, alleging that the government had unlawfully declared a state of emergency.

The court will hold the first hearing of the case next Thursday (February 6). Police will work with soldiers in providing security for key Cabinet ministers, such as PM Yingluck Shinawatra and Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, to prevent risks of disorder or disruption when they go to vote, police sources said.

Chalerm is head of the government’s Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order, which is in charge of the state of emergency currently in effect in Bangkok, Nonthaburi, and part of Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan.

The prime minister said yesterday she would exercise her right to vote and asked protesters not to prevent others from going to the polls. “I appeal to you not to block voting. Foreign countries will view Thailand as undemocratic,” she said.

Yingluck is expected to vote at a polling station at Klong Lam Chiak School near her home in Lat Phrao, while Chalerm will vote at Wat Bang Bon School near his home in Bang Bon district.

National police chief Pol General Adul Sangsingkaew and other senior officers, including Metropolitan Police commissioner Pol Lt-General Camronwit Thoopkrajank, are expected to go in person to take care of those two polling stations, the sources said.

There will also be extra security at other polling stations in Bangkok where Khunying Pojaman Damapong and General Prem Tinsulanonda are due to cast their ballots, they said.

Camronwit said yesterday that extra police and military personnel would be sent to those polling stations to ensure security for the VIPs going to vote.

More than 200,000 police will be deployed nationwide to keep law and order on the election day and they will be assisted by 7,000 soldiers in the areas where the state of emergency is in place, said Pol Lt-General Amnart An-atngam, who heads the police’s centre to maintain peace during the election.

Adul, the national police chief, said yesterday that there was concern that polling stations in some provinces may be disrupted by protesters, including Bangkok, Samut Songkhram, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Songkhla, Phatthalung, and Trang. Earlier in the day, he chaired a meeting of police units to prepare for the election.

He said police would attempt to prevent a repeat of violence last Sunday, when a protester was shot dead and many others were injured.

The Election Commission has advised election officials to end voting at polling stations if there is a risk of violence or turmoil, election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiy-akorn said yesterday. A new of voting would be called for eligible voters who fail to exercise their right if polling stations are closed prematurely, he said.

The Army will dispatch unarmed soldiers to help police maintain security at polling booths, as requested by the Election Commission and the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order, Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said yesterday.

However, the soldiers would just be around the polling stations, he added.

The First Area Army would keep a close eye on 10 districts in Bangkok for possible clashes between conflicting sides, a source revealed. They are Sai Mai, Don Mueang, Bang Kapi, Wang Thong Lang, Lak Si, Bang Na, Bang Bon, Suan Luang, Min Buri and Bueng Kum.

In a related development, an opinion poll has found that 36.5 per cent of 1,403 respondents were worried there would be violence on the election day, according to results of Rajabhat Suan Dusit University’s Suan Dusit Poll released yesterday.

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — Thai anti-government demonstrators say they will keep up protests in Bangkok ahead of a controversial national election in a nation gripped by a bitter, protracted political crisis.

The protesters have been campaigning for months against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, fueling unrest that has left 10 people dead and hundreds more wounded.

The instability has created fears of political chaos in Thailand, which was shaken by severe bout of violence four years ago. The concerns have already hurt the country’s lucrative tourist industry and undermined investment in one of Southeast Asia’s main economies.

Yingluck called the elections in December in a bid to ease mounting tensions on the streets of Bangkok. But the demonstrators and the main opposition party with which they’re affiliated have already rejected the vote, which Yingluck’s party is expected to win comfortably.

State of emergency

Authorities have tightened security ahead of the vote Sunday, with 10,000 security personnel on standby.

Protest leaders want to replace Yingluck’s administration with an unelected “people’s council,” which would push through electoral and political changes. They say they want to rid Thailand of the influence of her older brother, the divisive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is living in self-imposed exile.

In recent weeks, the anti-government demonstrators have blocked candidate registrations and early voting in parts of Bangkok and southern Thailand, the regions from which they draw their support. Those efforts to undermine the election have resulted in clashes with pro-government groups, whose power base is in the north and northeast of the country.

Amid the bursts of violence, Thai authorities declared a state of emergency last week, giving extra powers to security forces and drawing criticism from human rights advocates.

But the government says it has no plans to use force against protesters, who plan to hold marches in central Bangkok on Friday and Saturday.

‘Picnic’ protest

The protest leaders say they want as many of their supporters as possible to join them Sunday in the streets of Bangkok for what they describe as a “picnic” that they hope will shut down the city on the day of the election.

But the numbers of demonstrators involved in a previous attempt to bring Bangkok to a standstill in early January quickly ebbed. Groups of them continue to gather at major intersections in the center of the city where they try to block traffic.

Their mood remains spirited. But on Thursday evening, they numbered around 7,000, police said, far fewer than the more than 150,000 who assembled in early January.

The main protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister for the opposition Democrat Party, says he is encouraging Thai people not to vote in the election.

In some areas of southern Thailand, anti-government demonstrators continued to block post offices Thursday, preventing election officials from collecting ballot papers.

‘A guiding light’

Yingluck has been under pressure since November after a botched attempt to pass an amnesty bill that would have opened the door for Thaksin’s return stirred anger around the country.

Yingluck said Thursday that the election would be “a meaningful one” and “a guiding light” for the future of democracy in Thailand.

She has rejected calls to postpone the election despite concerns it could prompt an intensification of civil unrest without resolving the country’s extended political crisis.

“The election is one of the best and peaceful mechanisms to end conflict between people of different political views, and a way to reflect majority’s needs and minority’s voices,” Yingluck said in a statement Thursday.

But her party’s probable success in the vote appears unlikely to deter protesters. The demonstrators’ efforts to disrupt registration for the election could mean there aren’t enough candidates for a new parliament to open.

Pro-government groups, known as the red shirts, say they will hold rallies in several provinces Friday in support of the election. But they didn’t announce any plans for demonstrations in Bangkok, where the anti-government protesters are holding marches.

Thaksin’s shadow

Suthep’s anti-government protesters say Yingluck is merely a puppet of Thaksin, a polarizing figure who built his support on populist policies that pleased residents of the north and northeast. Yingluck has repeatedly denied her brother calls the shots in her government.

Thaksin, a business tycoon whose electoral success unsettled Thailand’s establish elite, was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and has spent most of the time since then in exile overseas. If he returns, he risks a two-year prison sentence on a corruption conviction, which he says was politically motivated.

The anti-government demonstrators stated goal of ridding Thailand of Thaksin’s influence appears ambitious in a country where parties affiliated with him have won every election since 2001.

Thailand’s worst bout of civil unrest took place in 2010, when the government — run at the time by the Democrat Party — ordered a crackdown on red shirt protesters, leaving about 90 people dead.

Violence feared as red shirts ordered to protect poll

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 31 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

The likelihood of a volatile confrontation during this Sunday’s snap election has increased after a red-shirt leader yesterday urged government supporters to help ensure the voting would not be interrupted.

Thida Tavonseth, chairperson of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), made her appeal to thered shirts nationwide after the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) threatened to besiege all 50 district offices in Bangkok. This would make it difficult to transport ballot boxes, ballot papers and other voting equipment to the more than 6,500 polling stations in the city.

Thida said the red shirts should observe the election and help make sure that the voting can take place properly. “UDD [supporters] and democracy lovers must examine, push and lessen damage to the election to the least without confrontation,” she told the red shirts during her daily press conference. However, she did not mention how they would do that, saying the local and central leaders would plan and cooperate with political parties locally.

Thida said the UDD’s main rally in Samut Prakan’s Bang Pu today was cancelled as the leaders had learnt some people might instigate the situation. The UDD leaders should not gather but stay scattered instead, she said.

UDD coordinator Salaktham Tojirakarn said Thida did not tell the red shirts to gather in groups “to protect the polling booths”. He added that people who would camp out at polling stations to protect the venues are not red shirts, but they are “white shirts” who support the election.

Some critics claim many of the “white shirts” are actually red shirts.

Meanwhile, the authorities responsible for holding the Sunday election yesterday also took precautions against possible violence on voting day.

The Election Commission has asked the national police chief and the Metropolitan Police commissioner in writing to provide police personnel to help maintain law and order and protect officials at the polling stations.

A letter signed by deputy EC secretary-general Somsak Suriyamongkol, acting on behalf of the secretary-general, asked the police bosses to instruct police stations to deploy personnel to guard polling stations.

The police would focus on areas where there have been conflicts between local residents over Sunday’s voting, according to Royal Thai Police spokesman Pol Maj-General Piya Uthayo. He said rapid-deployment units would be sent out in case of an emergency.

He said national police chief Pol General Adul Sangsingkaew has instructed police personnel to help the EC in providing security during transportation of ballot boxes and papers, as well as during voting at the polling stations.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration also has sought assistance from the Army in providing security to its officials manning the polling stations, according to Ninnart Chalitanont, the BMA’s permanent secretary. She said the Army has promised to dispatch soldiers to all polling stations in Bangkok.

“The BMA is worried over the safety of our officials. This is the top priority. We instructed our officials to bring back the voting equipment and leave the polling stations if there is violence. Our officials are worried that they may be at risk,” she said yesterday.

In response to the PDRC threat to besiege all of the city’s district offices in a bid to block the voting, Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra said yesterday that it was not the BMA’s responsibility to talk with the protest leaders. He added that the EC should take care of the matter.

In a related development, the red shirts have prepared a retreat for caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra should the military stage a coup d’etat to overthrow her government.

The plan is to relocate the Yingluck government to Chiang Mai, the home province of the Shinawatra family, with the northern city becoming the capital.

Red-shirt activist Mahawan Kawang said their movement is large enough to challenge the military, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported. “We are not afraid. All the red groups will unite. We are willing to sacrifice our lives,” said Mahawan, president of the alumni association of Yupparaj School in Chiang Mai where Yingluck was once a student.

“It is likely the government will move to Chiang Mai. We can defeat tanks because we have the numbers,” he added.

Red-shirt supporters spread rumours that the military would intervene to quell the ongoing chaos in the country caused by anti-government protests.

UDD vice chairman of Chiang Mai, Supon Fumuljaroen, a former classmate of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, said: “The majority of red shirts really like the idea of a separate state. If they stage a coup, we can live without Bangkok.”

Pinkaew Laungaramsri, a sociologist at Chiang Mai University, said the north-south divide meant that Thailand was breaking up. “If the government is kicked out, then Yingluck will be invited to set up a government here in Chiang Mai,” she said.

However, some experts consider the government relocating as an unlikely prospect, the Post reported.

No end in sight to Thailand turmoil

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 18 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Anti-government “shutdown Bangkok” protests to continue as defiant PM vows election will go ahead.

Bangkok, Thailand – Political deadlock in the Thai capital grows more difficult to resolve by the day after two months of anti-government protests that appear to have no end in sight.

At least 28 people were injured by an explosion at an anti-government rally on Friday, underscoring the ongoing tensions.

After dissolving parliament in December, embattled caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced Wednesday that her government will go on as planned with elections scheduled for February 2.

Nevertheless, protesters remain unyielding in their demands for the government to step down immediately and the introduction of political reforms overseen by a royally appointed council to eradicate what they call the “Thaksin regime”.

The controversial brother of Yingluck, Thaksin Shinawatra is a telecommunications tycoon turned Thai prime minister who was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006. He has been accused of controlling the government through his allies while in self-imposed exile in Dubai.

Yingluck held discussions with several political parties and state agencies about the possibility of postponing the election before announcing it would go ahead.

The main opposition Democrat Party and People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) – the group organising the protests and led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister – have refused to participate in the vote.

“We are not asking for the elections to be postponed, but for reforms. The idea of negotiating whether to postpone the election or not is not the thing what we are asking for,” Akanat Promphan, spokesman of the PDRC, told Al Jazeera.

“People have made clear that we are asking for reform before the elections. If the government postpones the elections but doesn’t resign from its caretaker duties, what is the point of that?”

The government, meanwhile, insists any kind of reform process can only take place after a new government is elected democratically.

“Any government who wins the election will be a reform government,” Suranand Vejjajiva, secretary general to the prime minister, told Al Jazeera.

“Yingluck Shinawatra has already committed that she will implement whatever reform agenda is proposed, if she becomes prime minister again. And once the reform agenda is complete, the house [of parliament] will be dissolved again and another general election will be called.”

Occupy Bangkok

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters continue to occupy seven key junctions in the capital as part of their effort to “shutdown Bangkok” until Yingluck and her cabinet resign. This city of about nine million people has not come to a standstill so far despite the disruptions, and life continues on as normal in most of Bangkok.

“The protesters are mostly to be found among the middle and upper middle class from Bangkok, [but] there are also southerners,” Charnvit Kasetsiri, a Thai historian and former rector of Thammasat University, told Al Jazeera.

“I think the supporters come from both a class background, and from traditional patronage relationships in the south.”

Demonstrations started in November when the government tried to pass in parliament an amnesty bill that would have made possible the return of Thaksin, who has not set foot in Thailand since 2008 to avoid a two-year prison term for corruption.

Protest leader Suthep would have also benefited from the proposed amnesty amid accusations against him for his role as deputy prime minister during the 2010 military crackdown, which killed about 90 people and wounded hundreds, mostly “red shirt” supporters of Thaksin.

The majority of red shirts – led by the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) – hail from the populous, impoverished, and historically neglected regions of the north and northeast.

In 2010, the UDD had occupied some of the same places that Suthep’s followers occupy now. The red shirts took to the streets after Thailand’s parliament – not a popular vote – elected a Democrat-led government in 2008.

The controversial amnesty bill was dropped by the senate in November, but protests had already gathered momentum with Suthep at the helm after he resigned from parliament.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, told Al Jazeera allegations of corruption helped galvanise the anti-government protesters, who gathered in the tens of thousands.

“Suthep has been successful in injecting a large dose of ‘Thaksinophobia’ among rich Thais in Bangkok, who went along with it because of their own anxiety since Thailand is approaching the end of the King Bhumibol reign,” Pavin said, referring to the country’s 86-year-old monarch who is highly revered among Thais.

So far, the “shutting down” of Bangkok has been mostly peaceful, but there are fears the situation might spiral out of control following Friday’s explosion. On Tuesday, there were shootings that wounded two people. Violent clashes in late November and early December resulted in several deaths and hundreds of injuries.

The military question

Security forces have acted with restraint so far, and an arrest warrant out for Suthep for insurrection has not been carried out. According to the prime minister’s advisor Suranand, this restraint is part of the government’s strategy.

“What they [protesters] want us to do is the same they did in 2010 – to have a government crackdown – and then they hope the military will come. We don’t want to play that game. We hope that with a public debate, the people will come to see that the right way is the democratic process, and then the protesters will be smaller in numbers.”

The PDRC’s Akanat dismissed the accusation that the aim is to create chaos in order to invite a military intervention as “a spiced-up, sexed-up conspiracy theory”.

“Whatever happens, we still insist upon non-violence,” Akanat said.

But fears of military intervention are high in a country that has seen 18 coups d’etat since 1932. Adding to those worries were the ambiguous words of the army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, in late December who refused to rule out that possibility.

“That door is neither open or closed, everything depends on the situation,” Prayuth said when asked if the military would step in.

Asked on Wednesday about Prayuth’s comment and the possibility of a coup, army spokesman Winthai Suvaree refused to answer saying it would be “inappropriate to the present situation”.

But according to the historian Charnvit, a serious outbreak of violence would certainly bring the military into play.

“The army is undecided [on intervention] because it is not sure if it can nicely succeed. The chiefs are reluctant because they may not get anything out of it but blame. It has to wait to be called or have excuse,” Charnvit said.

“There has to be violence and chaos, then the army can come in. I think Yingluck and her team, as well as the red shirts, understand this. That is why they are playing calm and cool.”

With protest leaders unwilling to negotiate except on their own terms and the government refusing to step aside, Thai society is becoming increasingly polarised by the day, leading some to suggest a civil war could be the endgame.

“If there is no election and if Suthep and the Democrats, the Bangkokians, and the middle southerners win, Thailand will be more split – not just along anti-government versus red shirt lines – but even among the regions,” said Charnvit.

“On Facebook, you can see people talking about separation: north and northeast versus Bangkok and south.”