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Crisis state

Thailand teeters on the edge as PM Yingluck Shinawatra struggles to hold on to power.

Updated: January 21, 2014 3:06 am

Thailand teeters on the edge as PM Yingluck Shinawatra struggles to hold on to power.

Explosions have rocked Bangkok ahead of the February 2 snap elections called
by the embattled prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, in an attempt to quell the anti-government protests led by former opposition politician, Suthep Thaugsuban. More than 500 people have been injured since the demonstrations began in November last year, and nine people have died.

The current crisis is an extension of the same partisan deadlock that has characterised the country’s politics for years, with demonstrators looking to overthrow Yingluck’s government on the charge that she is a stooge of her brother Thaksin, the divisive former PM deposed in a 2006 coup and since convicted of corruption, currently in self-imposed exile in Dubai. Thaksin is still influential and is believed to be instrumental in determining some of the Yingluck administration’s policies. Tensions boiled over late last year when the ruling party tried to push through an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return.

Protesters now are aiming to bring Bangkok to a standstill in an apparent attempt to provoke a confrontation with Yingluck supporters. Bloody skirmishes on the streets of Bangkok, a tragic echo of the 2010 clash between Thaksin’s Red Shirts and the security forces that left 90 people dead, would serve to de-legitimise the Yingluck government. Prolonged violence, even on a small scale, could trigger an intervention by the powerful Thai army, which has staged a dozen-odd coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

Thailand’s conventional politics was upended in 2001, when Thaksin first won office on the back of support from the majority rural poor, permanently putting into electoral shade urban middle-class Thais in Bangkok and pro-establishment royalists. Now, the stand-off threatens to further undermine democratic governance in a country where military coups have been all too commonplace, and where parties have rarely accepted defeat peacefully.

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