How it all started?
With Thaksin Shinawatra. Billionaire and Thailand’s former Prime Minister who began his reign in 2001, was ousted into exile by a military coup in 2006, amid accusations of corruption, tax-evasion, treason, muzzling of the media, and lèse majesté. Even though, Thaksin’s government was popular in rural areas due to measures such as universal heath-care. Thaksin now lives in Dubai and faces charges of corruption in Thailand, which his party claims are politically motivated.
Then, what happened?
Thaksin supporters, which formed the core of ‘Red Shirt movement’, backed his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra to lead Pheu Thai Party in the 2011 election with the slogan “Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai does”. Under her leadership, Pheu Thai won the majority and Yingluck became Thailand’s first female Prime Minister.
Her government initiated a plethora of populist policies including free health-care, low-interest loans and a 300 baht daily minimum wage law, resulting in 35 percent wage rise in Isan, one of Thailand’s poorest and most populous region with almost a third of Thailand’s 68 million people.
Why these protests now?
Yingluck recently initiated a move to pass an Amnesty Bill in the Thai Parliament to pave a way for her brother to return to the country, which made her 140,000 opponents led by their leader Suthep Thaugsuban unhappy. The protesters occupied government buildings and carried out massive demonstrations on the streets of Bangkok, resulting in the biggest and deadliest protests since 2010. The police had to use tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against demonstrators and tensions remained high on the streets.
What did the protesters wanted?
The violent anti-government protesters wanted to suspend Thailand’s democracy in favour of an “unelected people’s council” and banish Shinawatra family from the country.
What Yingluck did?
The PM made a surprise dissolution of the Parliament in a televised national address and called for fresh elections on February 2, 2014. “Let the people decide the direction of the country and who the governing majority will be. The government does not want any loss of life,” she said.
Is the opposition relenting?
No. not at all. “The movement will keep on fighting. Our goal is to uproot the Thaksin regime. Although the House is dissolved and there will be new elections, the Thaksin regime is still in place. My people want more than dissolution. They are determined to regain their sovereignty,” Suthep Thaugsuban told AFP.
Nothing much will change as Pheu Thai Party enjoys huge support in rural Thailand and is sure to get re-elected, with Yingluck coming to power again. Analysts say that Thaksin support base has only grown since 2001 and the trend is not going to reverse any time soon.