Protesters and supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, cheer to a speech on the stage during an anti-government demonstration on Wednesday in Bangkok. Photo: AP.
The Hindu News
Thailand’s political battleground shifted to Parliament on Wednesday, as opposition lawmakers boycotted legislative proceedings in what they said was a protest against tight security imposed by the military.
Street protesters from the so—called Red Shirt movement, seeking to have the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva step down, kept their distance from the heavily guarded area.
The Red Shirts have been demonstrating for more than a week in the Thai capital, drawing as many as 100,000 people to their protests. They want Mr. Abhisit to dissolve Parliament and call new elections.
The Red Shirts, formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, consist of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption, and pro—democracy activists who opposed the army takeover. The opposition Puea Thai Party also consists of Thaksin supporters.
Puea Thai lawmakers made a half-hearted effort to block government lawmakers from entering the parliamentary session, leading to some scuffles. The opposition lawmakers said they took offence at being barred from driving their cars into the parliamentary compound.
The area was blocked off by hundreds of soldiers and barbed wire and other barriers because the government feared the Red Shirts would try to mount a blockade of their own.
The legislative session proceeded after a quorum was reached, and three bills were passed.
The Red Shirts’ political rivals, the Yellow Shirts - also known as the People’s Alliance for Democracy - tried to block a pro—Thaksin government from convening a session of Parliament in 2008, setting off a bloody melee with the police that left two protesters dead and hundreds wounded.
Puea Thai lawmaker Witaya Buranasiri, the chief opposition whip, accused the government of being undemocratic and said the overwhelming security presence on Wednesday amounted to a silent coup by the military.
“Preventing other MPs from getting into Parliament and doing their job is undemocratic,” Prime Minister Abhisit, said in reply.
Thailand has been in constant political turmoil since early 2006, when demonstrations accusing Mr. Thaksin of corruption and abuse of power began. In 2008, when Mr. Thaksin’s political allies came back to power for a year, his Yellow Shirt opponents occupied the prime minister’s office compound for three months and seized Bangkok’s two airports for a week.
The Red Shirts believe Mr. Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy.
Mr. Thaksin’s allies took power in a December 2007 election but were forced out by court rulings. Mr. Abhisit’s Democrat Party then rallied the support of enough lawmakers to form a coalition government in December 2008.