Supporters of former Thai prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, react to her removal from power. Photo: Getty Images
Bangkok: Bitterly opposed Thai political groups are set to rally in Bangkok, stoking fears of violent clashes, as the crippled Pheu Thai government pushes ahead with plans for an election in July.
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has declared a “final all-out battle” against the government beginning Friday morning after Thailand’s Constitutional Court forced prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office in a controversial ruling on Wednesday.
Pro-government Red Shirts, mainly from north and north-eastern provinces, will rally in the city 24 hours later in what they say will be their strongest show of force since Thailand’s political crisis began last November.
Supporters of Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. Photo: Getty Images
The stand-off comes amid rumours of a military coup and accusations by Pheu Thai that another form of a coup is already under way through the courts, which they say threatens to derail the country’s democracy.
Pheu Thai legal expert and strategist Bhokin Bhalakula said action taken against Ms Yingluck in the courts adds weight to the party’s insistence that efforts were being made to overthrow the democratic system.
“This is a new form of coup, which is built to foster the new ruling system,” he said, adding the public should oppose the “conspiracy” by conducting demonstrations and filing complaints and lawsuits.
As Ms Yingluck left office denying any wrongdoing and saying “I will walk on the path of democracy,” new Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan urged calm.
“The caretaker government’s responsibility now is to organise an election as soon as possible,” said Mr Niwatthamrong, the Commerce Minister and a former executive in the corporate empire of Ms Yingluck’s elder brother and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.
Mr Niwatthamrong’s appointment has exacerbated tensions within the anti-government movement, which wants to eradicate the influence of the Shinawatra family in the country.
Ms Yingluck’s removal from office on an oblique charge of abusing her power by demoting the country’s national security chief in 2011 prompted the US, a close ally of Thailand, to urge a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis, saying this “should include elections and an elected government".
But anti-government movement leader Akanat Promphan said the court ruling presented an opportunity to push ahead with plans for the appointment of a so-called “people's government” without elections.
The ability of the 24-member cabinet to carry on until new elections could hinge on the National Anti-Corruption Commission which has been hearing charges of negligence relating to a loss-making scheme to subsidise rice farmers.
The commission has focused its investigations on Ms Yingluck but it could also force the removal of the entire cabinet, creating a political vacuum.
The director of the institute of security and international studies at Chulalongkorn University, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, said Thailand faced political hardships and hard times unless the crisis was settled by voters.
“The only way out, and the ultimate way forward in this flawed electoral democracy, is still to stick to the popular mandate as the least problematic of all options,” Professor Thitinan said.
“An unelected outcome is likely to bring more tumult and turmoil.”
The Bangkok Post reports the turmoil is making the possibility of a coup more appealing to the army, which has staged numerous coups in the past.
“I assure you the army chief and other senior officers have no intention of staging a coup ... it depends on how the political situation unfolds, and we are monitoring on a day to day basis,” the newspaper quoted an army commander as saying, on condition of anonymity.