Anti-government protests that have been taking place in Bangkok in recent weeks intensified today with crowds marching to various government buildings to voice their anger at what they are calling ‘the Thaksin regime’. Today’s developments in the Thai capital follow a mass gathering yesterday at the Democracy Monument. The leader of the street protests, former Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban, has called for civil disobedience and announced last night that he would lead marches today from the Democracy Monument to various government buildings to put more pressure on prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. This afternoon, hundreds of protesters were able to occupy an office attached to the Thai Ministry of Finance and groups of protesters also made their presence felt outside other government offices and some television channels. Suthep had promised peaceful demonstrations, but there have been some scuffles with police and there were also reports of one freelance journalist being assaulted on the basis that he was allegedly a supporter of the pro-government red shirts.
What are the protests about and what will happen next?
The protests were originally about the proposed amnesty bill. With that bill being rejected, Suthep has said that the aim now is to overthrow the government and the ‘Thaksin regime’. PM Yingluck faces a no-confidence debate this week, but has already said she will not resign and will not dissolve the House. The anti-government protests have gathered momentum since yesterday, but the government still has plenty of support and most local analysts believe that Yingluck will survive the no-confidence debate and if she was to call a snap election it is likely that her Pheu Thai Party would defeat the opposition Democrat Party.
How does this affect tourists in Bangkok?
Despite the tens of thousands who have turned out on the streets, for most of Bangkok it is business as usual. And that is definitely true for the rest of Thailand where life continues as normal. From a tourist perspective, it’s a case of using your own common sense and discretion. There’s no need to panic and start changing travel plans, but at the same time the situation could change quickly and it’s wise to keep abreast of the news but still keep things in perspective. Bangkok is a vast city and most protests have been in a relatively small area of the Thai capital around the Democracy Monument and in the Dusit district.
Some roads in Bangkok have been temporarily closed which is adding to traffic congestion. This pattern is likely to continue for the rest of this week and beyond so anybody travelling to or from Suvarnabhumi or Don Muang airport should allow plenty of extra time for the journey because of the knock-on effect of road closures elsewhere in the city. The same applies if you are travelling by road to or from Hualamphong train station or any of the Bangkok bus terminals. Some countries have issued travel advisories warning tourists in Bangkok to keep away from the political protests and government buildings. Should you choose to heed this advice, it means that certain attractions closer to Government House and the Dusit area e.g. Wat Benchamabophit (the Marble Temple) may be best avoided. There has also been a pro-government red-shirt rally held at the Rajamangala Stadium towards the eastern outskirts of Bangkok, but the numbers here have been smaller and with the stadium being located away from the main tourist areas should have no impact for overseas visitors in Bangkok.