Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was helped to power by a
promise to buy rice from millions of farmers at a price that was way
above the market. The government has been unable to sell the rice to
fund the scheme and some farmers have been waiting for months to get
The protest movement in Bangkok trying to oust Yingluck has found
much of its support from middle-class, urban taxpayers appalled at
what they see as corruption and waste in the rice scheme, but it is
now trying to make common cause with the farmers.
"This is the way to get money from the rich to help the poor," said
Akanat Promphan, the protesters' spokesman.
Rice farmers have until now been natural supporters of Yingluck and
her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who raised living standards in the
countryside with populist policies such as cheap healthcare when he
was prime minister from 2001.
But the former telecoms tycoon ran up against opposition from the
royalist establishment and the army, which toppled him in 2006,
setting off eight years of political turmoil broadly pitting
Thaksin's rural supporters in the north and northeast against the
Bangkok-based establishment and middle class.
Hundreds of farmers rallied at the Commerce Ministry but Prasit
Boonchoey, head of the Thai Rice Farmers Association, denied they
were backing anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban.
"This is a farmers' problem and we won't be joining Suthep's
protest. We are just calling for what is ours, which is the money
the government should pay us," he told Reuters.
The Northern Farmers Network, a group claiming 50,000 members, has
besieged the provincial hall in Phichit province in the lower north
and blocked highways around the region.
"There's no way this caretaker government can find the money for
us," its chairman, Kittisak Rattanawaraha, told Reuters. "That's why
we're pressing the government to get out."
Kittisak also said his network was not aligned with Suthep and had
no plans to march on Bangkok, although he acknowledged that some
farmers supported the protest movement.
ELECTION COMPLETE BY MID-MAY?
Thaksin fled into exile in 2008 to avoid being jailed for abuse of
power but is widely seen as the power behind Yingluck. The latest
unrest was sparked by her government's attempt in November to ram a
political amnesty bill through parliament that would have let him
come back home a free man.
Yingluck called a snap election to try to defuse the protests but
the February 2 vote was disrupted in Bangkok and the south,
strongholds of the opposition Democrat Party, which boycotted the
poll and backs the protests.
[to top of second column]
Yingluck's Puea Thai Party seems certain to win but it is unclear
when there will be enough lawmakers elected to give a quorum in
parliament to re-elect her prime minister. Thailand will probably be
stuck with a caretaker government, with only limited spending
powers, for many weeks yet.
The Election Commission said on Friday it would suggest that the
government begin the election process afresh in the 28
constituencies where there was no voting last Sunday, but it did not
suggest any date for voting. It would talk to local officials about
their ability to rerun disrupted votes.
"If we're lucky, the situation improves and there's no obstruction
of elections, we can finish administering the election by mid-May.
If we're unlucky, it might go on longer," Election Commissioner
Somchai Srisutthiyakorn told Reuters.
Provisional figures from the Election Commission, which exclude nine
provinces where there was no voting, put the turnout at 47.7
percent. It did not list results by party but said 16.7 percent
ticked the "no" box, meaning they picked none of the candidates, and
12 percent of ballot papers were spoilt.
The protesters have blocked road junctions in Bangkok and forced
ministries and state agencies to close their doors. But their
numbers have dwindled and some offices are tentatively reopening,
including the Finance Ministry on Friday.
National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattantabutr estimated that
only 3,000 people were camped out now at the various protest sites.
A state of emergency was declared by the government ahead of the
election. Arrest warrants have been issued against protest leaders
and the body overseeing the emergency measures said they were also
barred from leaving the country.
"When the right moment comes, we will arrest these leaders,"
Paradorn told Reuters. "But we guarantee we won't break up the
(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Alisa Tang in
Bangkok, and Andrew R.C. Marshall in Pichit; writing by Alan Raybould;
editing by Paul Tait and Robert Birsel)
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