Thailand’s government is to ask the army to deploy more troops in the capital, Bangkok, as fears mount that the country’s lengthy political crisis could move into a more violent phase.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul yesterday voiced concern about the potential for clashes between pro and anti-government groups if Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is ousted next month as a result of legal cases brought against her.
Yingluck, who has faced six months of street protests aimed at forcing her out, has been charged with abuse of power for her transfer of National Security Council boss Thawil Pliensri in 2011, which opponents say was done for personal and party political reasons. If found guilty, she may have to step down.
Yingluck’s ousting would be the latest twist in nearly a decade of confrontation between her brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the Bangkok-based royalist establishment, who see Thaksin, a populist former telecom tycoon, as a threat to their interests.
Both sides can whip up large crowds on the streets and both sides have armed activists in their ranks.
“There are important legal cases coming up next month and the red shirts will rally,” said Surapong, who heads the Center for the Administration of Peace and Order, which coordinates the state’s handling of the protests.
The Red Shirts are supporters of the Shinawatras and Yingluck’s government and they have vowed to resist any bid to force Yingluck from office, by either the courts or anti-government protesters.
“We are worried there will be violence and clashes between the protesters and the Red Shirts, which is why we must increase the presence of troops to protect security,” Surapong told reporters.
A Feb. 2 election that Yingluck looked set to win was disrupted by the protesters, who stopped candidates from registering and blocked polling stations. As a result, a court nullified the election last month and the Election Commission has yet to set a new date.
Opposition leader and former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also warned of an escalation in violence next month and offered to help kick-start dialogue between the different parties and groups involved in the protest.
“I think there are many people who want to see common ground emerging. My intention this week is to say that: isn’t it time we all accept the reality that neither side can get its way, and even if it did, it couldn’t bring long-lasting stability,” he said in an interview.
In a message posted on YouTube, he added that upcoming court verdicts would not solve the problem either, nor would any intervention by Thailand’s coup-prone army.
“The courts cannot tell us how the country will move forward in a manner that all sides will accept,” Abhisit said. “And I don’t believe that a coup, by whoever, or military intervention, will bring peace back to the country.”
The government and Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the anti-government protests, have not accepted Abhisit’s invitation to talk.