Viewpoints: Thailand's State of Emergency

Thai protesters recently launched a Bangkok "shutdown," blocking roads and building barricades. (Photo: Victor Dumesny, Jan. 16)

Escalating protests and violence in Thailand have led the government to institute a state of emergency. presents a sampling of recent news coverage from around the world.

Australia – The Sydney Morning Herald: Jan. 22: Anti-government protest leaders have declared they will defy the imposition of a state of emergency that gives security forces wide powers to crack down on protests that have paralyzed the Thai capital amid escalating violence. “We will defy them. We will step up our rallies to counter the emergency decree,” said firebrand protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban. “We will march on every road. We will use loud speakers, even if they prohibit us from doing so. We will do everything they forbid us to do,” he said. Mr Suthep, a former deputy prime minister, also renewed a warning that protesters could seize the country’s air traffic control, a move that could seriously impact flights across Southeast Asia. … Until now security forces have been ordered not to act against protesters, fearing it could provoke more violence, leading to a coup by the military that has intervened often in the past. Top military commanders opposed the imposition of a state of emergency until two grenade attacks within 48 hours last Friday and Sunday that left one protester dead, injured more than 60 and sent tensions soaring across Bangkok. Since then the military has cited intelligence that weapons and explosives are being moved into the city and that armed Cambodians have been smuggled across the border and plan to carry out attacks on protesters.

China – South China Morning Post, Jan. 22: Nine people have died and dozens have been wounded in violence, including two grenade attacks in the capital over the weekend, since protesters took to the streets in November to demand that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down and an unelected "people's council" be set up to bring sweeping reforms. Yingluck and her supporters deny responsibility for attacks on the protesters, and some accuse the military of trying to provoke a violent confrontation as a pretext for it to oust the government. … The protests are the latest eruption in a political conflict that has gripped the country for eight years. It pits the middle class of Bangkok and royalist establishment against the mainly poorer supporters of Yingluck and her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, toppled by the military in 2006. Thaksin and his allies have won every election in Thailand since 2001.

Canada – CBC News, Jan. 21: The protesters charge that Yingluck's government is carrying on the practices of Thaksin Shinawatra, her billionaire brother who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, by using the family fortune and state funds to influence voters and cement its power. Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in 2006 after protests accused him of corruption and abuse of power. He fled into exile in 2008 to avoid a two-year prison sentence for a conflict of interest conviction. The country's powerful army commander, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, said "we will have to see" whether the emergency decree helps ease the violence. The protesters have refused to negotiate with Yingluck, but Prayuth urged both sides to talk, saying, "We must stop this conflict to let the country move forward. No one takes all or loses all. No one wins all or loses all, so we have to find a way. Whenever the conflict has gone to the point that it is not fixable, the soldiers have to fix it." Thailand's military has staged 11 successful coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. Prayuth has repeatedly said he does not want the army to intervene, but has pointedly refused to rule out a coup.

Cyprus – Cyprus Mail, Jan. 22: Leading pro-government activist Kwanchai Praipana was shot and wounded on Wednesday in Thailand’s northeast, a stronghold of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, as a state of emergency began in the capital where protesters are trying to force her from power. … The attack in Udon Thani, about 450 km northeast of Bangkok, is the most significant violence outside the Thai capital in nearly three months of anti-government protests and illustrates the risk that the turbulence plaguing Bangkok could spread to other areas of Thailand. … Police said they believed the shooting in Udon Thani was politically motivated. Kwanchai led thousands of red-shirted supporters in Udon Thani, a province of about 1.6 million people in the heart of the country’s mostly poor “Isaan” region, a rugged northeastern plateau that is home to a third of the country’s population and has staunchly backed Yingluck. Just days earlier, he had warned of a nationwide “fight” if the military launched a coup.

France – Euronews, Jan. 21: The Thai government has imposed a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding provinces. The move is to help contain a protest movement that has blocked parts of the capital to try to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign. The demonstrators want to overthrow Yingluck’s government and derail Feb. 2 elections she called to try to take the steam out of the crisis. Protesters claim Yingluk’s regime is controlled by her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin, who was ousted by the military in 2006. The emergency decree gives officials the power to impose curfews, detain suspects without charge, censor media, ban political gatherings of more than five people and declare parts of the capital off-limits.

Qatar – Al Jazeera, Dec. 26: Protesters in Thailand are demanding the end of electoral democracy, saying it is a dictatorship by the majority that came to power buying votes and is ruling the country through corruption. They are calling for a rule instead by “moral” people whom they would select without a popular election. They represent a threat to Thai democracy that remains fragile after a decade of turmoil. The protests, which began in late November, are only one battle in Thailand’s protracted political struggle since the violent protests of 2006 that ended with a military coup. As in 2006, most of today’s protesters are wealthy and educated elites in Bangkok and supporters of the Democrat Party, the main opposition in Thailand’s parliamentary system.

Thailand – Bangkok Post, Jan. 23: Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has instructed the military to defend the general election and ensure polling stations are able to operate smoothly when voters turn out at the ballot-box on Feb. 2. Yingluck, who is also caretaker defense minister, said she expected the military to safeguard the election and remain politically neutral. … A total of 130,000 police officers will be assigned to provide security for the election and advanced polling.

United States – The New York Times, Jan. 21: In a country long plagued by corruption, protest leaders say Yingluck’s party has taken graft to a new level and is subverting democracy. Protesters are calling for an unelected “people’s council” to run the country and carry out political overhauls. The government says protesters are in the streets because they cannot win at the ballot box. The debilitating and complex power struggle in Thailand has put into question the future of Thai democracy. Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the founder of the most successful political movement in modern Thai history, have broad support in the north of the country. The protesters draw their support from Bangkok and the south. The powerful Thai military, which has staged a dozen coups in modern Thai history, is being courted by both sides.

United States – The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 22: The first day of a state of emergency began here Wednesday with raucous street protests and more questions about whether Thailand's army would step in to take control as civil unrest continues to trouble the country. So far, the armed forces have kept out of the struggle between the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and royalist protesters aiming to check the power of populist leaders. But Thailand's army chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said Wednesday: "If the situation escalates to a level where it cannot be resolved, the military will have no choice but to solve it." … The military has completed or attempted 18 coups since the end of Thailand's absolute monarchy more than 80 years ago.