Anti-government protesters take part in a rally in central
Bangkok yesterday. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Thailand's army will increase the number of troops in the
capital ahead of Sunday's election, it said, as the government
warned it might not be able to contain violence if
anti-government protesters try to stop people voting.
The protesters, members of the People's Democratic Reform
Committee (PDRC), had said they would disrupt the ballot as
part of their campaign to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra, but their leader appeared to backtrack.
The government's decision to press ahead with the election
has inflamed tension in the capital, Bangkok, where the
protesters have blockaded main intersections and forced many
ministries to close their doors this month.
"In addition to the 5,000 soldiers we have already deployed
in and around Bangkok to help monitor security, we will be
increasing troops around protest sites as there are people
trying to instigate violence," army spokesman Winthai Suvaree
About 10,000 police would be responsible for Bangkok security
on Sunday and the troops would be on standby.
Labour Minister Chalerm Yoombamrung, in charge of a state of
emergency imposed last week, urged the protesters not to
disrupt the vote.
"If the PDRC do that, people will beat each other to a pulp
and nobody can control a situation like that," he told
reporters. "The police and soldiers don't have enough
manpower to take care of (security) at every polling
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said people should not waste
time voting but appeared to drop earlier plans to try to
"Those who want to vote should go and vote," he told
supporters as the sun set. "We won't block you from voting
otherwise you'll turn around and say we violated your
Demonstrators took to the streets in November in the latest
round of an eight-year conflict that pits Bangkok's middle
class, southern Thais and the royalist establishment against
the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her
brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in
a 2006 coup.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a puppet of former
telecoms tycoon Thaksin, a man they say is a corrupt crony
capitalist who disrespected the monarchy and bought elections
over the past decade with costly populist giveaways.
Thaksin, who denies that, went into self-exile in 2008,
shortly before he was sentenced to jail on graft charges he
says were politically motivated.
Ten people have died and at least 577 have been wounded in
politically related violence since Nov. 30 according to the
Erawan Medical Center, which monitors Bangkok hospitals.
A protest leader was killed and about a dozen people were
injured in a clash near a polling station during advance
voting on Sunday. The protesters prevented early voting in
many parts of the capital and the south.
The violence is the worst since 2010 when Suthep, at the time
a deputy prime minister, sent in troops to end demonstrations
by pro-Thaksin activists.
Suthep faces murder charges related to his role in that
crackdown, when more than 90 people were killed, and for
insurrection in leading the latest protests which are also
taking their toll on Southeast Asia's second-largest economy.
Consumer confidence fell for the ninth month in December,
hitting a two-year low and the central bank said last week
the economy may grow only 3 percent this year rather than the
4 percent it had forecast.
Tourist arrivals have been hit in the peak season and huge
infrastructure projects have been put on hold.
Toyota Motor Corp, one of Thailand's biggest foreign
investors, said it hoped for a quick solution to the
"The region is like the Detroit of Asia and many makers are
exporting from there too," Toyota President Akio Toyoda told
reporters. "We hope that the situation will be resolved as
soon as possible so that the global impact will be limited."
Thailand is the region's biggest car-making hub.
Suthep led a march in the capital under a blazing tropical
sun on Thursday, the start of a three-day push to demonstrate
opposition to the vote and rustle up support for its cause.
He wants political reforms before an election is held, with
the aim of eradicating the influence of Thaksin and his
family. They have not said how they would do this.
Shop and office workers cheered on the marchers, numbering
between 2,000 and 3,000 according to a Reuters estimate,
offering food, drinks and money.
Yingluck's Puea Thai Party is expected to win the election
comfortably with the main opposition Democrat Party
boycotting the vote.
However, not enough candidates have been able to register to
provide a quorum for parliament to elect a new government
after the election. By-elections will have to be held to fill
the vacant seats, which could leave the country without a
properly functioning government for months.