Thai PM survives no-confidence vote amid massive protests

Critics say Prime Minister Yingluck is a puppet of her ousted brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra

Yingluck Shinawatra, center, leaves after the vote on a no-confidence debate session at Parliament House in Bangkok on Nov. 28, 2013.
Narong Sangnak/EPA

Thailand’s embattled prime minister easily survived a no-confidence vote in parliament Thursday as a wave of protests aimed at toppling her government entered a fifth day.

Lawmakers in Bangkok voted 297 to 134 against unseating Yingluck Shinawatra. The motion, filed by the opposition Democratic Party, never had a chance of succeeding because Yingluck’s party and its allies hold a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives.

Anti-government protesters have accused Yingluck of corruption and of being a puppet of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Yingluck – who denies the accusations – urged demonstrators to end their occupation of a number of key government buildings.

“They want to rally until the end of this month. I think they have expressed their political stand enough,” she said ahead of the vote.

Protesters are demanding an end to the “Thaksin regime” and want to replace the government with an unelected “people’s council.”

Al Jazeera's Veronica Pedrosa, reporting from Bangkok, said the rallies were "festive and loud, with whistles and hand-clappers."

"There have been clear instructions from leaders that there are not to be any weapons among protesters. Having said that ... anything could happen, violence could of course break out."

The protests are being led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a 64-year-old former lawmaker and deputy premier who vowed this week to bring down Yingluck by taking over every government ministry.

The demonstrations were sparked by plans by the ruling Puea Thai party to introduce an amnesty bill that could have allowed the return of Thaksin from self-imposed exile. The Senate blocked the bill, but the protests continued.

The people will quit only when the state power is in their hands.

Suthep Thaugsuban

former lawmaker and deputy premier

Massive protests began Sunday with at least 100,000 activists, some of whom quickly occupied the Ministry of Finance and spent nights camped inside the building.

By Wednesday, protesters had rallied at 10 government agencies and encouraged civil servants to stop working. The agencies are Commerce, Culture, Energy, Industry, Labor, Natural Resources and Environment, Public Health, Social Development and Human Security, Science and Technology ministries and the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).

On Thursday, protesters marched toward the defense and education ministries, a day after entering a major government complex in the north of the capital and forcing the evacuation of the DSI – Thailand’s equivalent of the FBI.

The protests spread outside Bangkok on Wednesday when about 25 provincial halls mainly in the opposition’s southern heartlands were surrounded by protesters in the South, including the tourist island of Phuket.

The opposition movement has gained the support of an umbrella organization of 43 labor unions, called the State Enterprises Workers' Relation Confederation, which said it will stop work and join the protests, the Bangkok Post reported.

So far, the protests have been peaceful. Yingluck has said she will not use force to disperse the protesters, and hopes to negotiate an end to the political crisis.

“The people will quit only when the state power is in their hands,” Suthep told reporters Wednesday. “There will be no negotiation.”

Red Shirts

Security forces have not even fired tear gas to prevent protesters from forcing the closure of multiple government offices. A warrant was issued for Suthep’s arrest, but he has ignored it.

A movement of government allies – the so-called “Red Shirts” – have limited their moves to avoid clashes with anti-government protesters. Pro-government activists were called to Bangkok's Rajamangala National Stadium to show support for Yingluck's government.

They said they will remain until the opposition protests end.

"Thaksin has asked Pheu Thai members to fight to maintain the government's power," a source close to the Pheu Thai Party's strategic team told the Bangkok Post. "The MPs have been told to mobilize red shirts to help, otherwise all our efforts will go to waste ... The power must be maintained or the Shinawatra family can't stay in this country."

The demonstrations are the largest since mass rallies three years ago descended into the kingdom’s worst civil strife in decades, with more than 90 people killed and nearly 1,900 wounded.

Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician, is adored by many in the country’s rural and urban working class. But he is hated by many southerners, middle-class Thais and the Bangkok elite, who see him as corrupt and a threat to the monarchy.

The possibility of military intervention looms over Thailand, which has seen 18 actual or attempted coups since 1932, but the army has so far shown no sign that it is preparing to get involved in the latest demonstrations.

Wire services

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