May 12 2014
After weeks of relative quiet on the Bangkok protest front, tensions are high again in Thailand after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from power by a court ruling last week. What does this mean for travellers to the kingdom?
First, some more background. Decrying the judgment against Yingluck as a “judicial coup”, pro-government red shirts have launched a large rally in Bangkok’s far western suburbs, while anti-government protesters are now moving from Lumpini Park to near Government House.
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has called on powerful courts, the Senate and Election Commission to appoint an interim prime minister, setting the stage for “reforms” that have yet to be defined. However, the powers-that-be are unlikely to bow to Suthep’s demands because an appointed prime minister would almost certainly provoke red shirts to move into central Bangkok and deepen the crisis.
Though Yingluck and nine of her most important cabinet members were ousted by the Constitutional Court ruling, her Pheu Thai party remains in power. Former commerce minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisarn has been named “acting caretaker prime minister” and some 25 Pheu Thai cabinet members remain. While Yingluck’s removal was a major victory for the anti-government side, it did not end the political stalemate.
Anti-government protesters have also called on the military for help, but General Prayuth Chan-ocha has consistently refrained from taking sides. Seemingly aware that any shift by the military towards the anti-government side would provoke a major red shirt response, or even an armed rebellion among pro-government ranks, the general has repeatedly called for compromise while denying rumours of a military coup. Non-armed soldiers have been deployed in Bangkok for months in an effort to maintain peace.
An election had been tentatively planned for July 20 after results from a February election were annulled due to disruption caused by anti-government protesters. Fearing that this election will once again be boycotted by the opposition Democrat Party and disrupted by protesters, the Election Commission has yet to verify the July date. A cancelled or delayed election could be another recipe for major red-shirt protests in central Bangkok within a couple of months.
While the stalemate appears likely to continue as is for the time being, how things ultimately play out is anyone’s guess. In any case, rumours of civil war seem overdone at this point. One likely scenario is the military stepping in if protesters from the two sides clash, with a strong possibility that General Prayuth ends up leading the nation until an unobstructed election is possible. This scenario is far from peachy, though nowhere near as bad as an all-out war.
For now, little has changed for travellers on the ground. Anti-government protesters had already been camped around Government House for months, and the increase in numbers there probably won’t change anything for travellers. The rally site covers an area from Phan Fah Bridge just north of Democracy Monument up Ratchadamnoen Nok Road to Government House. It remains to be seen whether protesters will occupy the monument itself.
A separate group of anti-government protesters remains at Government Complex on Chaeng Watthana Road in far north Bangkok. Immigration continues to function out of makeshift offices in the far east and southwest of the city (see this post for info and map). Apart from Government Complex, all of the areas that were occupied during the Bangkok Shutdown are now clear. One bright spot is that by Tuesday, May 13, travellers and residents will be able to enjoy Lumpini Park again.
As of Monday May 12, the only area that should be absolutely avoided is northern Ratchadamnoen Road (see map). We expect that nearby Khao San Road and key attractions like the Grand Palace and Wat Pho will remain unaffected. All inter-city and long-distance public transport continues to operate normally, as it has throughout the seven-month-long standoff.
With that said, anti-government protesters may get desperate if their demands are not met soon. The overall situation is unpredictable. While we don’t currently feel it’s necessary to cancel trips to Thailand or Bangkok, travellers should keep an eye on the latest developments.
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