Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej spoke during a news conference at the Supreme Command Headquarters in Bangkok on Sept. 2. (Reuters)
State of Emergency Declared in Bangkok, Thailand
September 02, 2008
As the confrontation between the government and opposition escalates, the ruling party is slapped with charges of electoral fraud.
By Huma Yusuf
The Christian Science Monitor
On Tuesday, Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej declared a state of emergency in Bangkok after clashes between government supporters and opposition party members left one person dead in the worst violence seen in the city in 16 years. The violence flared as Mr. Samak's ruling People Power Party (PPP) faced charges of electoral fraud in the courts and escalating pressure from the opposition People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has been occupying the prime minister's office for the past week.
According to the BBC, fighting started early Tuesday.
- The street clashes began shortly after midnight, when a screaming crowd of government supporters – armed with sticks and slingshots – ploughed into a group from the PAD, who have been occupying the prime minister's office.
- Amid the ensuing fighting, some gunshots were fired – both sides are now reported to possess some firearms.
- One person died, and TV pictures showed some of the 43 people injured lying bleeding on the ground.
The street clashes are an escalation of an ongoing confrontation between the government and PAD protesters. Fighting is expected to intensify on Wednesday, the International Herald Tribune reports.
- The street fighting escalated a confrontation between the government and protesters who had occupied the grounds of the prime minister's office for a week. It was the first serious violence in what had become a stubborn class struggle between the Thai middle class and a beleaguered government backed by a business and financial elite acting in the name of Thailand's poor. The protest broadened Monday when labor unions representing 200,000 workers at 43 state enterprises said they would cut off water, electricity, and telephone service to government offices beginning Wednesday.
- Mr. Samak's critics call him a proxy for Mr. Thaksin and his party, the People Power Party, is widely considered to be a reincarnation of Mr. Thaksin's former party....
- Mr. Thaksin, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon, was ousted in a coup in September 2006 while in New York and spent more than a year in self-exile. He returned early this year once a friendly government was in place and appeared ready to contest a growing list of cases against him for corruption and abuse of power.
- Among these royalist opponents of Samak, there is anger at the return to power of old political faces. They accuse Samak of corruption at the behest of Thaksin, his political patron, and of surrendering territory to Cambodia in a border temple dispute. Some call for an overhaul of a political system that gives too much weight to the poor, Thaksin's loyal constituency.
- Leaders of the PAD are hostile to Western-style democracy, arguing that it has failed to produce suitable leaders and instead encouraged vote-buying and corruption. In its place, they propose a partially elected legislature and a backstop role for the military to keep politicians in line.
- Mr Samak declared his government could only be toppled in Parliament, not on the streets. His voice has absolutely no impact on the movements to topple his government. On the other hand, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has taken to the streets since May, has been stronger than ever.
- What happened this week indicates that Mr Samak is no longer fit to run the country because he could not maintain order....
- What did Mr Samak do to deserve all this? The simple answer is that it has nothing to do with his policy. His sin is that he and his party had made it clear they are the heirs of Thaksin Shinawatra. Their determination to amend the constitution and pass an amnesty law does not help either. When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, something's gotta give.
The Bangkok Post also reports that Thai and foreign business leaders are concerned that the state of emergency will lead to widespread economic losses as investor confidence is shaken.