Security is being stepped-up in some parts of Bangkok ahead of tomorrow’s anti-government rally which will take place at the Royal Plaza in the Dusit district of the Thai capital. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has invoked the Internal Security Act (ISA) for three districts of Bangkok including Dusit. The Thai leader has cited intelligence reports which apparently suggest that unrest could take place with attempts to enter government buildings. To counter that, the protest organisers insist it will be a peaceful demonstration with no attempt to storm government buildings.
What does this mean for tourists?
The chances are that for most tourists in Bangkok, there will be little to no effect from the rally and there is no need to panic. However, with the potentially volatile nature of large political protests, tourists are being advised to avoid the Dusit district of Bangkok this weekend. That includes attractions such as Dusit Zoo, Dusit Palace, Vimanmek Teak Mansion, Wat Benjamabophit (‘Marble Temple’) and Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium. With road closures and security checkpoints in place in the Dusit area there is likely to be a knock-on effect with extra traffic congestion in the neighbouring districts. Depending on what happens tomorrow, there is potential for protests to continue in the same area into next week so please keep that in mind if you are planning to visit the Dusit district.
Who is taking part in the rally?
The rally has been organised by a group called Pitak Siam who are led by retired army man, General Boonlert Kaewprasit. He heads a group of ultra-royalists opposed to the current government. Pitak Siam have emerged recently having risen to national prominence following their rally in October at the Royal Turf Club in Bangkok which achieved a much higher than expected turn-out. Pitak Siam will be joined at this weekend’s rally by an array of groups disenchanted with the current Thai government which came to power in elections held in July 2011. Amongst those attending the anti-government protest will be yellow shirts, PAD supporters, the so-called multi-coloured shirts and various other anti-Thaksin and anti-Yingluck Shinawatra factions.
What is the aim of the rally?
The rally organisers say it is aimed at bringing pressure on the current government and is also to protect the monarchy. General Boonlert Kaewprasit had previously announced that the rally would be a ‘do or die’ scenario and had also called for the suspension of democratic rule for five years whilst Thailand resolved its internal problems. The retired army man hopes to achieve the ambitious target of 1 million people attending the rally. General Boonlert is also on record as saying that if the protest could not draw 200,000 people then this would be the last demonstration by Pitak Siam and that if the current government doesn’t go then Pitak Siam will have to go instead. Security experts in Bangkok are predicting a crowd ranging anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 people. If the top-end of that estimate is achieved, then crowds could spill out from the Royal Plaza area into the roads around Government House and Parliament. If that does happen, it could be a real test for the Bangkok police who don’t have the best of reputations when it comes to crowd control at political rallies in Bangkok.
Pro-government supporters say the rally is aimed at deposing the democratically elected government led by Yingluck Shinawatra and bringing about conditions for a military coup. Some red shirt leaders have accused Pitak Siam of attempting to provoke a confrontation that leads to military involvement to destabilize the government.
The timing of the rally
The rally is set to take place the day before a censure debate begins in the Thai parliament with the government facing a vote of no-confidence. The debate has been triggered by the opposition Democrat party. The government majority means they are likely to win the vote, but by invoking the ISA the Thai government is taking strong measures to try and nip in the bud any potential disruption from anti-government protests. Thousands of police will be on duty over the weekend and the ISA gives the government more power for arrests, searches and curfews in the three districts of Bangkok if they deem the need arises.
The red shirt response
Pro-government red shirt leaders are advising their members to keep away from the rally site at the Royal Plaza and say they don’t want to be accused of inciting a confrontation. At the same time, they have also placed red shirt groups on alert in provinces outside of Bangkok and say they are ready to launch counter rallies in support of the government if the need arises. As is often the case in recent Thai history, there is much talk from analysts of the ‘invisible third-hand’ that may come into play during such rallies and protests.