Emergency in Thailand to restore normalcy

Masum Billah :
Yingluck Sinawatra government has invoked a special security law on 21st January 2014 in the capital Bangkok and nearby areas after protesters stormed key ministries in a bid to topple the government. Protesters have been demanding Yingluck’s resignation since November 2013 , when her Pheu Thai party tried to push through a late-night amnesty bill that would have allowed for the return of her much-maligned brother, Thaksin Sinawatra. The protesters range from academics and businessmen to students, farmers and entrepreneurs. They were joined by celebrities and musicians. Analysts have raised concerns about possible military intervention, with the army chief recently refusing to rule it out. Yingluck said that the government would not enforce the laws to use force against the people rather the government would like to ask people not to join illegal protests and to respect the law. It is not immediately clear how the government would implement the decree, which enables authorities to ban public gatherings of more than five people and detain suspects for thirty days without charge. Labour Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who will oversee its implementation, said Thailand would abide by international standards.”We will not use force. We have no policy to disperse the protesters and we haven’t announced a curfew yet,”
Hundreds of demonstrators swarmed into finance ministry buildings and later forced their way into the foreign ministry compound and asked civil servants to leave and not to return to work the next day. Suthep Thaugsuban said at a press conference from the finance ministry that “The Thaksin system can no longer work in Thailand.’ Some of the demonstrators had earlier called for the intervention of the military in a country that has seen 18 actual or attempted coups since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.Thousands of pro-government “Red Shirts” remain in a suburban football stadium in Bangkok in a show of support for Yingluck and Thaksin.The rallies are the biggest challenge yet for Yingluck, who swept to power in elections in 2011.Thaksin, a billionaire telecoms tycoon-turned-politician, draws strong support from many of the country’s rural and urban working class. But he is loathed by the elite and the middle classes, who accuse him of being corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.
Yingluck has called an election for February 2 but the main opposition party is boycotting the vote. The protesters are trying to disrupt the polls and have prevented candidates from registering in some southern constituencies. Ms. Yingluck and her allies are considered almost certain to win. The opposition Democrat Party, which is allied with Mr. Suthep, is boycotting the election.The demonstrators have staged a self-styled “shutdown” of Bangkok since January 13, erecting roadblocks and rally stages at several main intersections, although their number has steadily fallen since the middle of last week. Dozens of people were wounded and one killed in grenade attacks by unknown assailants on opposition rallies .The incidents, which each side has blamed on the other, heightened fears of growing unrest before next month’s election.
The military, traditionally a staunch supporter of the anti-Thaksin establishment, has shown signs of reluctance to play a significant role in handling the current protests, saying it wants to remain neutral. But the army chief has also refused to rule out another coup. The recently declared emergency is seen as an attempt by the government to instill some sense of law and order in the capital, where main intersections have for the past week been blockaded by protesters and their rally stages and encampments in what they call a “Bangkok shutdown”. Security forces will now be allowed to detain suspects without charge, impose a curfew, censor the media, close off parts of the capital and prevent political groupings of five or more people. Though it goes against humans rights, for national security and public interest the government has imposed it. One of the protesters’ main leaders, Issara Somchai, announced that they would continue despite the decree as they were within the “people’s constitutional rights”. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban asked whether it was right to use the emergency decree to declare a state of emergency. Thai police have been largely absent from the seven main protest sites in an effort to avoid confrontation with protesters. The United States, European countries and some other countries have lauded the Yingluck government to show restraint in handling the protests. The police have not tried to arrest Mr. Suthep despite a court-issued warrant for rebellion against the state.So, the declaring of emergency may be accepted by them. Political analysts also warned that the ongoing deadlock may only be resolved by a judicial or military coup. The army chief has ambiguously refused to rule out the possibility of the military’s involvement.
The present emergency decree has been declared for sixty days and was passed under the same law that a different government used in 2010 to start a military crackdown that left dozens of people dead. Underlining the seesaw power struggle that has gripped Thailand for the better part of the past eight years, the man responsible for the crackdown four years ago, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, is now leading the antigovernment protests. He vowed to continue fighting until they win which gives a threatening signal.
Thailand has long been plagued by corruption and the protest leaders say Ms. Yingluck’s party has taken graft to a new level and is subverting democracy. The government says protesters are in the streets because they cannot win at the ballot box. The debilitating and complex power struggle in Thailand has put into question the future of Thai democracy. Ms. Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the founder of the most successful political movement in modern Thai history, enjoy broad support in the north of the country but the protesters draw their support from Bangkok and the south. The powerful Thai military, which has staged a dozen coups in modern Thai history, is being courted by both sides. Their response to Yingluck government to restore normalcy in the country still proves their good intention. We want to see the army helps to establish a sustainable democracy in Thailand.
(Masum Billah is Program Manager : BRAC Education Program and Vice-President: Bangladehs English Language Teachers Association( BELTA), Email: [email protected] )

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