Supporters of Thailand’s embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra plan to rally in the hundreds of thousands in Bangkok, a show of force they said is aimed at those plotting the government’s ouster.
The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship is working with authorities to prepare security for a crowd of 500,000 people today at a site in western Bangkok, said Jatuporn Prompan, the leader of the group that’s also known as the Red Shirts. The government said 3,000 police and soldiers will be deployed to maintain order.
“This gathering will be our preparation for a big war, a battle about our beliefs and thoughts about democracy,” Jatuporn said April 3 on his Facebook page. “The gathering of Red Shirts will be calm, peaceful and without weapons.”
The rally raises the risk of a violent clash with anti-government groups that have been protesting in Bangkok since October, demanding Yingluck’s replacement with a temporary unelected government. When the Red Shirts last rallied in Bangkok in late November they were confronted by anti-government protesters, sparking violence that killed four.
“We would like to ask people for their own safety to avoid joining protests of any group and we would like to ask leaders of both groups to gather in peace and not incite people to confront each other,” the government panel charged with overseeing the current security situation said in a statement yesterday. Twenty-four people have died in the latest round of political violence.
In addition to the ongoing street protests, Yingluck faces multiple legal cases that could see her removed from office in the coming weeks, including one involving alleged graft in a rice subsidy program in which the government spent 689 billion baht ($21 billion) in the past two years to boost rural incomes.
Yingluck’s Red Shirt supporters, many from the farming heartlands of the north and northeast, say the cases against the government are part of a plot by the nation’s elite to provoke a constitutional crisis that would allow for the appointment of an unelected prime minister.
They accuse the courts of bias and double standards, pointing to the case of Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the current anti-government protests, who faces murder charges for allowing the military when he was deputy prime minister to use live ammunition to clear the streets of protesting Red Shirts. Suthep has repeatedly delayed his court appearances.
Suthep’s protesters accuse Yingluck of being a puppet of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives abroad to avoid jail for a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated. They say no elections can be held until an appointed government reforms the political system to rid it of what they say is Thaksin’s corrupting influence.
Thaksin or his allies have won every national election held since 2001. A Feb. 2 ballot that was boycotted by the main opposition party was nullified by a court last month on the grounds that voting didn’t take place on a single day, something that wasn’t possible in some areas due to blockades by Suthep’s protesters.
“The situation in Thailand is coming to another crescendo as the judiciary and so-called independent institutions make a concerted effort to defeat Yingluck and her government prior to any rescheduled elections,” said Kevin Hewison, director of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University in Perth. “A really big Red Shirt demonstration may cause some of the conservative and royalist factions to pause and reflect on the ramifications of their actions.”