© The Financial Times Ltd 2015 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
November 25, 2013 4:16 pm
Thai anti-government protesters broke into and occupied the finance ministry on Monday in the biggest escalation yet of a power struggle that is stoking fears about the country’s stability.
Thousands of demonstrators also fanned across Bangkok, the capital, and swarmed into the grounds of the foreign ministry and public relations department, stepping up a campaign to oust Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister.
The latest thrusts by the opposition “yellow shirts” came as pro-government “red shirts” massed elsewhere in Bangkok, raising fears of a repeat of 2010 street battles that left scores dead and paralysed parts of the capital for two months.
Suthep Thaugsuban, protest leader and a former deputy prime minister for the opposition Democrats, said the demonstration was a putsch against the continuing influence of Thaksin Shinawatra, the fugitive former premier and Ms Yingluck’s older brother.
“Our only objective is to rid the country of the Thaksin regime,” said Mr Suthep, as about 1,000 protesters over-ran the finance ministry and set up sleeping and eating mats inside. “The finance ministry was taken over by the people to prevent the government from transferring money as a tool for Thaksin’s regime.”
Protesters cut electricity supplies to the complex and forced their way into the foreign ministry and public relations compounds as part of a broader strategy to stop the government working. The action echoed the 2008 opposition shutdown of Bangkok’s main airport, which marked the start of two years of on-off unrest and culminated in the 2010 violence.
The Thai baht fell to a near three-month low, while the benchmark Bangkok SET stock exchange index dropped 0.5 per cent. The political unrest has added to broader worries about the Thai economy which, while not seen by economists as being close to crisis, has been hit by slowing growth, rising consumer debt and heavy government spending on subsidies of rice and other goods.
The latest opposition push was triggered by a contentious proposed amnesty bill that could have led to the return to Thailand of Mr Thaksin, who was unseated by a military coup in 2006 and then convicted of corruption – he says unfairly – in 2008. While the government and its allies in parliament eventually dropped the bill this month, it reignited a battle that has simmered and sometimes raged since Mr Thaksin was first elected in 2001 on a wave of support from Thailand’s rural northern poor.
Ms Yingluck, whom many analysts view as a proxy for her brother, vowed to remain in office and fight a parliamentary no-confidence motion tabled against her for Tuesday. “I have no intention to resign or dissolve the House [of Representatives],” she said, warning that the protests could hit investor confidence and tourism in southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
Thousands of redshirt supporters of Ms Yingluck and Mr Thaksin have been gathering in a stadium about 15km from central Bangkok, in their own show of strength against opposition protesters, who numbered as many as 150,000 on Sunday.
Some Thaksin supporters say opposition militants are trying to spread chaos and precipitate another military coup, because the Democrats have lost four successive elections and feel they cannot win at the ballot box.
Thailand’s existential political struggle is growing ever more complex and intense, as splits emerge on both sides and the personal stakes for those involved rise.
Mr Suthep, who resigned from parliament this month to lead the protests, is fighting murder charges laid last month against him and Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former Democrat prime minister, over the killings of pro-Thaksin protesters in 2010.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.
Sign up for email briefings to stay up to date on topics you are interested in