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Thai Demonstrators Seek to End Thaksin’s Political Dominance

Thai Protests
Anti-government protesters take part in a rally at a monument in Bangkok, Thailand, on November 26, 2013. Photographer: Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

The Thai protest leader who called on supporters to seize the finance ministry two days ago said his group won’t end demonstrations until it dismantles the political machinery of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Suthep Thaugsuban, who oversaw a deadly crackdown on Thaksin supporters when he was deputy premier in 2010, called for a nationwide program of civil disobedience to bring down the administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister whose Pheu Thai party won a parliamentary majority in elections in 2011.

“If they have no ministries or officials to work for them, this government will crumble,” Suthep told supporters in Bangkok late yesterday. “If nobody comes out to protest, we will become slaves of the Thaksin system forever.”

Yingluck and Pheu Thai party lawmakers defended themselves in parliament for a second day against accusations of economic mismanagement, corruption and attempting to pass amnesty legislation that would exonerate Thaksin of crimes he committed before being ousted in a 2006 coup. A confidence vote is scheduled for tomorrow.

Rallies that began a month ago against the amnesty for most political offenses stretching back to the coup have morphed into a wider push to end the “Thaksin system,” according to Suthep. Parties linked to Thaksin have won the past five elections on support from Thailand’s rural north-eastern provinces.

‘Thaksin Regime’

“There is no Thaksin regime,” Yingluck told reporters today. “There is only the democratic system. If they don’t understand, then please let them come to talk.”

Government workers were told to leave the Ministry of Commerce in Bangkok today as demonstrators began gathering outside the compound, said Tikhumporn Natvaratat, foreign trade department deputy director-general. Suthep said demonstrators would also target government offices in the Chaengwatta district of the capital, including the Department of Special Investigation, which investigates cases affecting national security.

“I urge civil servants to maintain patience in dealing with the current situation,” Yingluck said. “I have also asked all ministries that haven’t been affected by the demonstrations to be prepared.”

The unrest has prompted investors to shun Thai assets, with global funds pulling a net $2.6 billion from the country’s stocks and bonds this month through yesterday. The baht rose 0.1 percent to 32.037 per dollar as of 12:29 p.m. in Bangkok, snapping six days of losses. The currency has weakened 2.8 percent this month. The SET Index of stocks rose 0.1 percent.

‘Nation’s Pillars’

The government “abuses its power by using majority control of parliament to destroy the nation’s pillars,” Suthep said, describing Thaksin’s allies as “commercial politicians” who win power by buying votes. “This government uses its majority to ignore the minority. We have to think about how to prevent corrupt people from getting into parliament.”

Thaksin’s opponents accused him of disrespecting the monarchy and using government agencies to attack his political foes while he was prime minister. He fled abuse of power charges in 2008 after a military-appointed panel accused him of helping his wife buy land from the government, and has guided government policy from abroad since his sister became leader.

Thaksin became a billionaire after winning a mobile-phone concession in 1990 for what became Thailand’s biggest operator. After entering politics, he appealed to voters in the poorer northeast region with cheap health care and small loans, a platform that underpinned his tenure as prime minister from 2001 until his ouster.

Popular Appeal

After the coup, courts dissolved two parties linked to Thaksin and banned about 200 political allies from holding office for five years, punishments that failed to dent his popular appeal.

In July 2011, Yingluck’s Pheu Thai won 265 seats in the 500-seat parliament on pledges to raise the minimum wage and buy rice at above-market rates, the fifth straight win for Thaksin-linked parties.

Thailand has spent 688.8 billion baht ($21.5 billion) since October 2011 buying 44 million tons of unmilled rice from farmers, according to government data. The program spurred the buildup of record reserves and dethroned the country as the largest exporter.

Suthep resigned from the opposition Democrat party to lead the anti-government movement. The party also backed protesters who took over Bangkok’s airports in 2008 to oust Thaksin’s allies. As deputy premier two years later, Suthep oversaw a crackdown on Thaksin supporters that killed more than 90 people and spawned arson attacks on Bangkok malls and office buildings.

Murder Charge

Suthep and Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Democrat party leader who was prime minister at the time, are facing murder-related charges for ordering the army to use live ammunition to disperse armed protesters in 2010. The Criminal Court yesterday issued a warrant for Suthep’s arrest for his role in leading the seizure of the finance ministry.

“We will set up a parliament of the people, whose members will come from representatives of all occupations,” Suthep said yesterday, adding that neither he or Abhisit would lead the government. “The will choose good people to be the PM and ministers. This will be the dream-team Cabinet.”

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