State Of Emergency Raises New Questions In Bangkok

Originally published on January 21, 2014 7:55 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

To Thailand now, where the government has declared a 60-day state of emergency ahead of next month's snap elections. The move comes after weeks of anti-government protests and it gives authorities the power to impose curfews, detain suspects without charge and ban public gatherings of more than five people.

Still, the government insists it will not use the declaration to remove protesters from the sites they have occupied in the capital city, Bangkok. Reporter Michael Sullivan joins us from his base in Chiang Rai, Thailand. And Michael, these protests are aimed at forcing the current and democratically elected prime minister to step down. But the demonstrators, apparently, don't want the new elections - they were called in very short notice, snap elections, on February 2. Why not? Why are they against elections?

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Because they know that they would lose those elections to the government currently in power. The people who are on the streets, basically, in Bangkok now represent a minority of the Thai population. They represent the royalists, the traditional elite here, the middle class, the upper middle class and the majority of the people in Thailand actually live somewhere else and they live either outside in the rural areas of Thailand or the urban poor who work for the people that are the ones who are demonstrating or who are demanding that the current government resign.

So that's why the main opposition party, the Democrats, are boycotting the election because they know they have no chance of winning. They haven't won a majority in 20 years.

SIEGEL: Well, the protests had been largely peaceful until now, but over the weekend, there was violence that left one person dead and several dozen wounded. Was that violence what prompted the state of emergency being declared?

SULLIVAN: It's a little unclear to me at this point what prompted the state of emergency. I mean, you could argue that these protests that have been going on for the past week have been, you know, diminishing in their popularity so that the government appear to be winning, actually, in their policy of restraint, of not intervening in these protests and not trying to put them down with force.

So I thought that strategy was working. So why they would declare a state emergency now, I can't really imagine, unless they actually got the army on board to say that, right, OK, this has to stop and they decided that this is the only way that they can actually try to push forward with the elections on February 2.

SIEGEL: Thailand has a history of the army taking power whenever the political system stumbles. Is there speculation that that might happen again?

SULLIVAN: Every day, every minute, every hour, yes, yes, yes. They've done it 18 times in the last 82 years since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy. They last time was in 2006 when they deposed Yingluck Shinawatra's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, and when the army did that, they did everything that they could to try to prevent a Thaksin or Thaksin-related party from taking party again.

And sure enough, in 2008, it happened. A Thaksin proxy party won. So the army is a little reluctant to intervene at this point and there are many competing factions, even within the army that makes the army not the monolithic structure that we knew it as before in 2006 when Thaksin was deposed. So that's one of the reasons that the army doesn't want to intervene because they're a little factionalized. And the other was they realized what a hash they made of it the last time.

SIEGEL: That's reporter Michael Sullivan speaking to us from Bangkok. Thank you, Michael.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.