Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and a democracy activist in Thailand.Thailand’s ruling Pheu Thai government seems to be in its death throes, and is being picked at by an army of its enemies. One would be forgiven for thinking that the government’s chances for survival are slim. Meanwhile, political violence is a growing threat on the streets of Bangkok, and rumors of yet another military coup abound. How has Thailand arrived at this dangerous crossroads?

Thailand’s key opposition Democrat Party first spotted an opportunity to undermine Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra after her botched attempt, in October 2013, to enact a controversial amnesty bill that would have pardoned former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, for corruption charges that were laid against him in 2008.

Yingluck shelved the bill in November, but protesters are demanding more. Under extreme pressure, Yingluck dissolved parliament, calling for snap polls to be held on Feb. 2.

Leading the protests is Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat Party MP who was deputy prime minister in the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration. Suthep is not satisfied with Yingluck’s political concessions. He has accused her government of being the source of political corruption, and says it deserves to be eliminated.

Suthep wants the government to be replaced with a “people’s council.” He has handpicked the members of this assembly, most of whom are closely allied to Thailand’s old, anti-democratic establishment. The Democrat Party supports Suthep, and has stated that it will boycott the February elections. As of 13 January, Suthep and his followers have “shut down” Bangkok, an act designed to create a situation of ungovernability so as to invite military intervention.

But is the Yingluck-Thaksin regime the worst that Thailand has had? A great deal of recent research suggests that the Yingluck-Thaksin political clans have been no more corrupt than Suthep’s own party. Government corruption in Thailand seems omnipresent. Suthep, however, saw the current situation as an opportunity to legitimize the behavior and rationale of his anti-government forces.


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