Matt Dunham/AP
Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva

Thai Protesters Literally Keep Prime Minister Abhisit out of Office

March 27, 2009 05:09 PM
by Liz Colville
Prime Minister Abhisit of Thailand’s Democratic Party was blocked from entering his office Mar. 27 as he faces accusations that he is a puppet for the country’s military.

Protests Claim Government Connection to Military

Political unrest is nothing new for Thailand, but the global recession is exacerbating the situation. Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the country’s Democratic Party, has only been in power for three months, but he already faces opposition from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), whose leaders claim he is a puppet for the military, Reuters reports.

In a country whose recent history is riddled with military coups, such suspicions could outdo the new leader, the BBC suggests, though some analysts say the current rebellion is harmless. According to the BBC, supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006, accuse Abhisit and his party of “conspiring in a ‘silent coup,’ together with the [People’s Alliance for Democracy], the military and elements of the royalist elite, to bring down an elected government.”

Meanwhile, there is an ongoing insurgency in Thailand’s southern region, which is predominantly Malay and Muslim. On Jan. 13, Amnesty International released a report claiming that “Thai security forces in the country’s southern provinces are systematically engaging in torture and other ill-treatment” as part of a “counter-insurgency” campaign in the region.

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Background: Thailand’s ongoing political instability

In recent years, Thailand has been governed by a series of short-lived cabinets while its monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, remains powerful and revered almost as if he were “divine,” according to a BBC profile of Bhumibol.

Prime Minister Abhisit’s predecessor was Samak Sundaravej, who took office in Jan. 2008 but was ousted in Dec. 2008 after extensive unrest that saw protesters, led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), fight for his removal for several months; they also blocked him from his office for days and shut down Bangkok’s airport in November.

Samak’s rule was also marked by a poor economy and rising inflation. He came under criticism for his close ties with and support of his predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted by a military coup. Thaksin was charged with corruption in Aug. 2008 and fled the country. Samak formed his People Power Party (PPP) from remnants of Thaksin’s party, Thai Rak Thai.

Opinion & Analysis: Thailand’s constitution and the future of Prime Minister Abhisit

Abhisit, who leads Thailand’s Democratic Party, was educated at Eton, the private boys’ school in England, and Oxford University, and is considered out of touch with the poorer elements of the Thai population. A Times of London profile of Abhisit notes that until his election in 2008, “the majority of Thai voters have pointedly chosen someone else whenever they have been given an opportunity.”
Abhisit “owes his new job, not to any democratic mandate, but to the support of powerful friends,” writes Richard Lloyd Perry, who cites these “friends” as the army, who ousted Prime Minister Thaksin in a bloodless coup in 2006, and the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the group behind 2008’s lengthy protests to oust Prime Minister Samak.

A Dec. 2008 Bangkok Post editorial suggests that the country’s oft-rewritten constitution is central to the country’s political unrest. Thailand has had 18 constitutions in the 77 years since the government shifted from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. The article notes that the current constitutional charter, enacted in 2007, remains controversial because it “comes from an assembly of charter writers hand-picked by the architects of the 2006 military coup” that took out Prime Minister Thaksin.

The country’s King Prajadhipok Institute is now working on a study in preparation for another new charter, which is expected to take eight months to draft. The editorial doubts whether Prime Minister Abhisit will even be in power if and when this new charter is written into law.

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