Thai authorities are “very seriously” considering a state of emergency after a weekend of violence in the capital, where protesters have been trying for more than two months to bring down the government, Thai National Security Council Chief Paradorn Pattantabutr said yesterday.
Though the size of the demonstrations has declined, protesters have managed to shut down some government offices, forcing Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to shift her workplace and snarl Bangkok’s traffic.
“We’re prepared to use the emergency decree... Everyone involved, including the police, the military and the government is considering this option very seriously, but has not yet come to an agreement,” Paradorn said after a meeting with Yingluck.
“The protesters have said they will close various government offices. So far, their closures have been symbolic, they go to government offices and then they leave, but if their tactics change and they close banks or government offices permanently, then the chance for unrest increases and we will have to invoke this law,” he said.
The emergency decree gives security agencies broad powers to impose curfews, detain suspects without charge, censor media, ban political gatherings of more than five people and declare parts of the country off limits.
One man was killed and dozens of people were wounded, some seriously, when grenades were thrown at anti-government protesters in the city center on Friday and Sunday.
“I think these attacks have been designed to provoke an army reaction,” said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South East Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, predicting a measured increase in the violence.
That in turn could prompt the Thai Election Commission to refuse to oversee the Feb. 2 election called by Yingluck and which the main opposition has said it will boycott, he said.
The protests, led by 64-year-old anti-government firebrand and former Thai deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, were triggered by Yingluck’s moves last year to grant amnesty to her brother, the self-exiled former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Protesters accuse the billionaire businessman Thaksin of rampant graft and want to remove the influence of his family, promising ill-defined political reforms.
The violence is the latest episode in an eight-year conflict that pits Bangkok’s middle class and royalist establishment against poorer, mainly rural supporters of Thaksin and his sister.
The government has mostly avoided direct confrontation with protesters while the army, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of on-off democracy, has stayed neutral.
The violence is the worst since 2010, when Suthep, as deputy prime minister, sent in troops to end mass protests by pro-Thaksin supporters.
Suthep faces murder charges related to his role in the 2010 military crackdown, when more than 90 people were killed, and for insurrection in leading the latest protests.
Yingluck faces legal challenges with the country’s anti-corruption agency, saying last week it would start investigating her role in a loss-making government rice purchase scheme.
The scheme has won her party huge support in the rural north and northeast of the country, but there are signs of growing discontent among farmers who say they have not been paid for their rice and are threatening to block major roads.