Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters have blocked parts of the Thai capital in a bid to stop elections planned for February 2 and force the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Parts of the Thai capital are full of people. At least seven important street intersections have been blocked by anti-government protesters, who have set up mobile stages. The blockade, they say, will last until the interim government led by Prime Minster Yingluck Shinawatra is no longer in power.
They are not willing to compromise or negotiate, as repeatedly stated by Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the protest movement and former member of parliament for the "Democrat Party," which announced it will boycott the election last December. "There is only victory or defeat - nothing in between," he says
The protesters don't only want to get Yingluck out of office. They want to see the "Thaksin regime" - as they call it - ousted. Anti-government demonstrators and the opposition see Yingluck as a puppet of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in the year 2006.
The opposition accuses Thaksin Shinawatra of ruling the country through his sister Yingluck Shinawatra
The opposition wants to implement a non-elected council in charge of drafting a new constitution. The demonstrators are doing their best to sabotage the elections, which are set to take place on February 2. In a number of provinces in the country's south, where the government has the most critics, some candidates from different parties were not able to register for the poll.
Michael Nelson, a political scientist of Walailak University in the southern Nakhon Si Thammarat province, told DW the opposition was reacting without thinking and that it was only unified with regards to its hatred for Thaksin and the so-called Thaksin regime. The government's opponents have only been able to offer vague solutions so far.
Security forces divided
Many observers are of the opinion that the protest movement aims to create chaos, so as to bring the military to carry out a coup. The observers warn of a civil war should it come to a military intervention.
Others, on the other hand, are not sure that the army, which since the end of Thailand's absolute monarchy in 1932 has carried successful and unsuccessful military interventions 18 times, would actually be willing to resort to this. The military is divided between those who are a part of the conservative elite and those who support Thaksin.
However, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has played a role in the spread of the rumors. In the last few weeks, he has not made any clear statements as to whether he is in favor of military intervention or not.
Looking back at the year 2008, it becomes clear that a military coup was not necessary to oust the ruling and Thaksin-supporting "People's Power Party" (PPP). The government was deprived of power through controversial judicial rulings after months of massive anti-Thaksin protests. Back then, the so-called pro-monarchy "Yellow Shirts" of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) at first occupied the government building and then the international airport in Bangkok.
The military, under the leadership of then army chief Anupong Paochinda did not intervene (at first). The protests didn't end until Thailand's constitutional court declared dissolved the PPP and two smaller coalition parties for alleged election fraud. The court also commanded the parties' senior politicians be banned from politics for five years. Thaksin supporters referred to this as a "judicial coup."
Repeat of 2008?
The current circumstances are similar to 2008: Thailand's anti-corruption agency (NACC) has announced it will start conducting investigations against a total of 308 senators and members of the recently dissolved parliament. The politicians - most of whom are members of Yingluck's party - are accused of voting for an illegal alteration of the constitution which aims to change the constitution of the senate. They had fought to make sure that all representatives of the senate be democratically elected. Currently, only half of the senators are elected and the other half is there by appointment.
Thailand expert Michael Nelson thinks it likely that the accused politicians will be found guilty. Such a verdict could possibly lead to impeachment proceedings for the government. "It seems difficult not to believe in a cynical plot against the hated Thaksin supporters."
Meanwhile, many Thais refuse to simply accept the decay of democracy. For this reason, a number of groups have been meeting for weeks in the capital and elsewhere to hold candle light vigils, demanding that their vote be respected. They are also against a military intervention. One of the demonstrators told DW, "Our form of democracy is like a mountain. Whenever we find ourselves on top after an election, someone comes along and pushes us back down."