Protesters in Thailand Move to Shut Down Bangkok
January 13, 2014
BANGKOK — Antigovernment protesters seeking to block next month’s elections took over major roads in Bangkok on Sunday as they began their campaign to shut down the city.
In this vast metropolis of well over 10 million people, the protesters were unlikely to paralyze all movement and commerce. But they vowed that by Monday morning they would close busy intersections, make major government offices inaccessible and besiege the homes of top officials in the administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose party is likely to win the general elections if they are held on Feb. 2.
“We have to shut down Bangkok,” said Ratchanee Saengarun, a protester who stood in the middle of an intersection in the city. “This is our last resort.”
By late Sunday, protesters had blocked a number of roads with double-decker buses and sandbags, and had diverted traffic.
One of the officials singled out by protesters, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, told foreign reporters on Friday that he had already moved out of his house, emblematic of the government’s defensive posture during two months of aggressive street demonstrations.
“I’ve already packed my stuff,” he said.
In addition to mobilizing thousands of riot police officers for what is widely called the “shut down,” the government has called up 8,000 military personnel to guard against chaos.
“We are pretty sure that both the military personnel and the police can maintain law and order and peace next week,” said Phongthep Thepkanjana, a deputy prime minister.
Even in a city inured to protest in recent years, the attempt to block major sections of Bangkok was ambitious and fiercely controversial. Government supporters in the north and northeast lashed out at the protest and mobilized over the weekend to counter any takeover by the military, which has been ambivalent in its support for the government. Business groups and tourist associations pleaded with the protesters to stand down. And some of the country’s leading scholars, who said Thailand was teetering on the edge of widespread violence, urged protesters to allow the elections to proceed unimpeded.
But the protest movement, a highly motivated, emotional and idealistic group largely led by the middle and upper classes in Bangkok and residents of southern Thailand, appeared to enjoy considerable support. Among those casting their lot with the protesters were the union representing Thai Airways, the national carrier; an association of rural doctors; the union representing employees of state-owned companies; and an association of university rectors.
Other institutions were as divided as the country itself. Many professors and students at one of Thailand’s most prestigious universities, Chulalongkorn, vowed to support the protest by blocking access to a central commercial district. But others at the university said they were outraged that the protest sympathizers would claim to represent Chulalongkorn.
The protesters are driven by hatred of Ms. Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire tycoon and former prime minister who is in self-exile overseas but wields great influence over the government. The protesters are passionately opposed to the family’s dominance in the country and believe that the elections will cement its hold on the political system. Disillusioned with electoral democracy, they want to replace Parliament with a “people’s council.”
Yet Mr. Thaksin, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006, and Ms. Yingluck are widely admired by voters in the north and northeast for their transformative policies, including universal health care.
The leader of the protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, was quoted as saying on Sunday in the English-language newspaper The Nation that he would chase Ms. Yingluck out of Thailand. “You will no longer have a place to live,” Mr. Suthep said. “We’ll fight until the victory belongs to the people.”
Seeming to acknowledge the fears of his critics that the protests could kindle violence, he added that he would retreat if there were signs of “civil war.”
“If someone instigates a civil war, I will tell the people to go home,” Mr. Suthep said.
In a country with a long history of military interventions in politics, the head of the army, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, has given various Delphic answers to reporters when asked about the possibility of a military coup.
Last week, the retired general who led the 2006 coup, Sonthi Boonyaratglin, said military intervention was “impossible” because the country was so deeply divided that a “mass” of people, joined by dissident military groups, would rise up to oppose a coup.
Mr. Sonthi said he was often asked by officers about the likelihood of a coup.
“If you love the country and the king, you better stop thinking about it,” he said he had told the officers.
“I can assure you that they won’t do it,” he said of any attempt at a coup.
Ed Wray/Getty Images
在這個人口遠超1000萬的巨型都市，抗議者不太可能讓所 有的活動和商業經營都陷入癱瘓。但他們鄭重宣告，到周一上午，他們會封鎖繁忙的交叉路口，截斷政府主要辦公室的出入路徑，並包圍總理英拉·西那瓦 (Yingluck Shinawatra)手下政府高官們的住宅。如果大選在今年2月2日舉行，英拉所在的政黨很有可能會贏得大選。
即使是在近年來見慣抗議的曼谷市，封鎖市內主要路段的嘗試 依然可謂野心勃勃、極具爭議。泰國北部和東北部的政府支持者對抗議活動大加抨擊，還在周末動員起來對抗軍方的任何接管行動，後者一直態度曖昧，沒有明確表 態支持政府。商業團體和旅遊協會籲請抗議者放棄行動。一些主要的泰國學者敦促抗議者讓大選暢通無阻地進行下去，他們說，泰國正處於暴力蔓延的危急邊緣。
然而，抗議團體似乎獲得了大量的支持。這是一個高度情緒 化、帶有理想主義傾向的群體，積極性很高，它的領導者是曼谷的中上層群體和泰國南部居民。決意與抗議者共進退的團體包括代表泰國航運商泰國航空公司 (Thai Airways)的工會、一個鄉村醫生協會、代表國有企業員工的工會，以及一個由大學校長組成的協會。
其他機構就像泰國本身一樣分裂。泰國著名大學朱拉隆功大學 (Chulalongkorn University)的很多教授及學生誓稱要封鎖通往一個主要商業區的道路，以此支持抗議活動。該大學的其他一些人卻表 示，抗議活動支持者自稱代表朱拉隆功大學，他們對此感到非常憤怒。
抗議活動的起因是抗議者對英拉及其兄長他信·西那瓦 (Thaksin Shinawatra)的憎惡，後者是億萬富翁及泰國前總理，目前在國外自我流放，但仍對政府具有很大的影響力。抗議者強烈反對西那瓦家族在泰國的統治地 位，認為選舉將會鞏固該家族對政治體系的控制。他們對選舉民主大失所望，希望用「人民委員會」來代替議會。
周日，英文報紙《國家報》(The Nation)援引抗議活動領袖素貼·特素班(Suthep Thaugsuban)的話說，他會將英拉趕出泰國。「你將不再有立錐之地，」素貼說。「我們將戰鬥到人民得勝的那一天。」