Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra declared a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok as she sought to combat violent attacks that threaten to derail elections scheduled for Feb. 2.
Grenade attacks and shootings in the Thai capital have killed one person and injured 70 over the past five days, prompting army Chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha to call for restraint from protesters and security officials. Suthep Thaugsuban, an opposition politician leading the protests, vowed to continue blockades of major intersections that began on Jan. 13.
“We will start with negotiations,” Yingluck told reporters today. “All officials will be careful and everything will be done in line with international rules. Please don’t be concerned.”
The move marks a shift in strategy by Yingluck, who put up mild resistance as demonstrators calling for an unelected council to take power occupied buildings and streets over the past three months. Thailand last saw a state of emergency to combat protests in 2010, when Suthep’s Democrat party held power and oversaw a crackdown on protesters loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, that killed more than 90 people.
“I don’t want to go back to the painful period of 2010,” Prayuth told reporters yesterday. “But the situation today is different. The situation hasn’t reached that point, so soldiers can’t come out to do anything. Everything depends on the situation.”
Thailand has had nine coups and more than 20 prime ministers since 1946. Prayuth earlier this month said that the “door” to a coup is neither open nor closed, raising speculation the army may step in if protests become violent.
The government won’t use weapons and won’t disperse protesters at night, Labor Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who will oversee a joint operation between the military and police, told reporters today. The elections will go ahead as planned, he said.
“We will talk first and I will be the one to lead negotiations,” Chalerm said. “We are all friends. I hope Suthep will change his mind and surrender to police.”
Suthep’s critics have said he seeks to create enough turmoil to spur the intervention of the military in a repeat of a 2006 coup that toppled Thaksin, whose allies have won the past five elections on support from rural northern and northeastern regions. The protesters want to prevent parties linked to Thaksin from returning to power.
Sit And Pray
“Don’t be scared about the emergency decree,” Suthep told supporters tonight at Bangkok’s Lumpini Park. “If they come to disperse us, we will sit down and pray. If they storm in, we will retreat orderly without any panic.”
The protesters, mostly middle-class Bangkokians and Democrat party supporters from southern provinces, say Yingluck’s government is illegitimate and run from abroad by Thaksin, who faces a two-year jail term for corruption if he returns in a case he says was politically motivated.
Nine people have been killed since anti-government protests began Oct. 31, including a man who died from injuries sustained in a Jan. 17 grenade attack on a protest march near Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
The Election Commission has urged the government to defer the vote until May, saying the political environment is too tense to proceed next month. The government, police and military are united in efforts to prevent violence and to ensure the election goes ahead, Yingluck said Jan. 17.
The perceived risk of Thailand defaulting on its debt has risen to the highest since June 2012.
Credit-default swaps insuring Thai debt against non-payment for five years increased eight basis points, the most since Nov. 26, to 158 basis points in New York yesterday, according to CMA prices. That was the highest close since June 2012. The baht, which fell 0.2 percent to 32.91 per dollar as of 6:59 p.m. in Bangkok today, has weakened 5.7 percent since the protest began on Oct. 31, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Suthep’s former party, the Democrats, have lost every national election over the past two decades and plan to boycott next month’s poll.
Yingluck dissolved parliament Dec. 9 and announced the election a day after the Democrats resigned en masse to join the demonstrations, which at their peak drew more than 200,000 people. Protesters initially took to the streets to oppose a proposed amnesty law that they said would benefit Thaksin, which the government later abandoned. The demonstrations later morphed into a broader movement to erase Thaksin’s political influence.