The protesters, who moved to Lumpini Park on the weekend after
orders from their leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, are banking on judicial
intervention from courts widely seen as hostile to Prime Minister
Yingluck Shinawatra to bring down her government.
"Bangkokians are able to go to work more easily but the state of
play in Thailand has not changed since protesters scaled back," said
Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn
University in Bangkok.
"He (Suthep) realizes that the fate of the government won't be
determined by his group but lies in the hands of independent
organizations - the anti-corruption body and the courts."
Demonstrators seeking to overthrow Yingluck took to the streets in
November and have since blockaded ministries, occupied government
offices and, in January, set up camp at major traffic intersections
They want Yingluck to resign to make way for an appointed "people's
council" to overhaul a political system they say has been taken
hostage by her billionaire brother and former premier, Thaksin
Although tension has eased on the streets, there was a reminder of
the danger when two grenades were thrown at a Bangkok criminal court
on Monday, although only one exploded and no injuries were reported,
Critics have accused the criminal court of siding with demonstrators
after it rejected several government requests for arrest warrants to
be issued for certain protest leaders.
Yingluck faces several legal challenges, the most significant being
negligence charges for mishandling a disastrous rice subsidy scheme.
The scheme paid farmers above the market price and has run out of
funds, prompting farmers - normally the prime minister's biggest
supporters - to demonstrate in Bangkok.
Hundreds of farmers joined anti-government protesters led by
Buddhist monk Luang Pu Buddha Issara in a rally at the Finance
Ministry on Monday to demand payment but they dispersed later.
Yingluck has been given until March 14 by the National
Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to defend herself. It will then
decide whether there is a case to pursue.
"It seems likely she will be found guilty," said Kan Yuenyong, an
analyst at the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank.
"At that point, she will have to suspend her duties if the case goes
to court. The endgame that protesters are hoping for is a way to
suspend the whole cabinet so that an interim, so-called neutral,
prime minister can be elected," Kan said.
The confrontation broadly pits Bangkok's middle-class and southern
Thais against supporters of Thaksin and Yingluck who mostly hail
from the poorer, rural north and northeast.
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The protesters rejected and disrupted a snap election called by
Yingluck for February 2, when her party almost certainly won the
most votes. Fresh elections were held in five provinces on Sunday
and passed off peacefully.
But there is still no date set for elections in nine southern
provinces where there was no voting on February 2, meaning it is
still impossible to get a quorum to open parliament, elect a prime
minister and get a government with full powers.
Yingluck heads a caretaker administration with only limited spending
and borrowing powers, which has complicated the rice scheme problems
and other aspects of government business.
She has kept away from the capital for much of the past two weeks
but on Monday she went to the Centre for Maintaining Peace and
Order, the body set up to oversee a state of emergency imposed in
She spent several days last week in the north, a stronghold of the
"red shirt" movement loyal to her brother Thaksin.
Thousands of Thaksin's supporters have gathered in Nakhon
Ratchasima, northeast of the capital, and some of their leaders have
threatened to come to Bangkok if Yingluck is removed from power,
adding to fears of civil strife.
"The red shirt mobilization is extremely worrying. They really see
this situation as the work of the elite who are trying to undermine
their democratic rights," analyst Kan said.
Some Yingluck supporters have called for Thailand to be divided
along north-south political lines but she told reporters: "The
government does not support this idea and it is against the law so I
don't think this will happen."
Tarit Pendith, head of the Department of Special Investigation,
Thailand's equivalent of the FBI, asked red shirt leaders not to
bring their supporters to Bangkok "in order to avoid confrontation".
Twenty people have been killed in protest-related violence in
Bangkok since November 30 and three in the eastern province of Trat.
(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Editing by Alan
Raybould and Robert Birsel)
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