Saturday, 1 March 2014

Suthep:
"We will stop closing Bangkok..."

Suthep Thaugsuban has announced that his "Bangkok shutdown", which has disrupted traffic in the city since 13th January, will finally end on 3rd March. He pledged to dismantle his blockades at major intersections, and consolidate his protest camp at Lumpini Park: "We will stop closing Bangkok and give every intersection back to Bangkokians. We will stop closing Bangkok from Monday."

However, Buddha Issara, a Suthep ally who is leading a protest site at Chaengwattana, has refused to withdraw from the area. (Buddha Issara, a Buddhist monk, has also been accused of extortion, after protesting at businesses associated with Thaksin Shinawatra and insisting on payment before agreeing to leave: last week, he demanded 120,000 baht from the SC Park Hotel, which is part of the Shinawatra Group.)

Suthep led protests against the government's proposed amnesty bill last year, and successfully pressured the government into dropping the proposal, though the protests continued to escalate. Protesters blocked the registration of candidates for some constituencies before the general election, and obstructed polling stations to prevent advanced voting. On election day, Suthep's PDRC forced the closure of 11% of polling stations, denying millions of citizens their right to vote.

The decision to end the shutdown is an acknowledgement that Suthep's PDRC has been unsuccessful in its plan to bring down the government. Suthep caused maximum disruption on the streets (as the PAD did in 2006 and 2008), and the Democrat Party boycotted the election (as it did in 2006), recreating the circumstances that led to the coup in the hope that the army would intervene again. However, this time the Court ruled that the election was legal, and army chief Prayuth called on both sides to avoid confrontation.

Suthep's public support is also dwindling, and attendance at his rallies has been declining sharply. There were also concerns about public safety, after several deaths from grenades and gunfire aimed at some protest sites: last weekend, four people, including three young children, died after attacks on protesters in Ratchaprasong (close to Siam Square in Bangkok) and Trat (a province on the Cambodian border).

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