(by Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com) – Thailand’s embattled prime minister is facing new difficulties as labor unions have thrown their support behind a growing mass movement agitating for his resignation.
The crisis roiling Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra risks the stability of a key U.S. ally in Southeast Asia, a nation that contributed troops to U.S.-led campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and was accorded “major non-NATO ally” status in 2003.
Attempts by the 56-year-old former telecommunications multimillionaire to defuse the issue by dissolving parliament and calling early elections – and pledging to resign if his party fails to achieve 50 percent of the vote – have been unsuccessful, as the main opposition party and two others are urging a boycott of the poll.
Thaksin remains popular in rural areas, and the boycott tactic aims to delegitimize his Thai Rak Thai party’s predicted victory in the April 2 election.
The anti-Thaksin drive is being spearheaded by a loose coalition called the People’s Alliance for Democracy, comprising a range of groups with different reasons for wanting his departure.
The coalition has vowed to continue large protests until he stands down, and now some of the largest trade unions are backing the call, threatening a general strike.
Just a year ago, Thaksin won re-election by a landslide, becoming the first leader in Thailand’s often fractious history to be elected to a second consecutive term in office. His second administration took office a year ago Thursday.
But he faces accusations of corruption, tax evasion, abuse of power, media censorship, human rights violations and mismanagement of a Muslim insurgency in the south of the predominantly Buddhist country.
A major dispute followed the sale in January of his family’s nearly 50 percent stake in a state-owned telecom giant, a deal that made his relatives almost $1.9 billion, tax-free.
The past weekend saw the staging of what were described as the largest rallies in Thailand since 1992, when rule by a military-appointed government gave way to a functioning constitutional democracy.
Now democracy is again at risk, with attempts by some of Thaksin’s opponents to draw sympathizers in the military into the campaign, and the threat to bring him down not at the ballot box but through mass pressure.
“We have to show our force until Thaksin gets out,” said Pean Yongnu, leader of a powerful union of public utility workers, while protest leader Chamlong Srimuang described the demonstrations as a test to see who had a higher tolerance level – the prime minister or his opponents.
“I am confident we will win,” said Chamlong of the “Dharma Army,” a breakaway Buddhist sect. The 70-year-old former general, one of Thaksin’s strongest critics, played a key role in pro-democracy demonstrations in 1992.
Thaksin said in Bangkok Tuesday he would never give in to “mob rule.”
“I have to fight to uphold democratic rule, which is under threat by groups of people and political parties who are moving against democracy.”
Thaksin also questioned the wisdom of the tactic employed by his opponents.
If the rallies continued until he resigned, he said, “that is the destruction of democracy and will set a bad precedent. Next time when they are not satisfied with the PM, then they will do the same thing?”
Although the prime minister enjoys considerable backing in the densely-populated countryside, polls show support slipping in urban areas.
In one survey of Bangkok voters Tuesday, nearly half of the respondents said Thaksin should resign, up from 39 percent in a similar poll less than a week earlier. More than one-third disagreed, however.
Some media commentators are urging Thaksin to stand down for the sake of stability.
In a front-page editorial, the Thai newspaper The Nation likened the situation to that of a CEO resigning for the greater good of the company.
Reprinted here with permission from Cybercast News Service. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.
1. For what reasons are various groups in Thailand calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation?
2. What was significant about Prime Minister Shinawatra’s election victory last year?
3. What are opponents doing to try to get Prime Minister Shinawatra to step down?
4. a) Define “pacify” from the Merriam Webster online dictionary here.
(OPTIONAL: List several synonyms of pacify as posted at the bottom of the definition and explain the differences in their meanings)
b) What offer has PM Shinawatra made in an attempt to pacify his opponents?
c) How did they respond to his offer?
5. Read the entry for “recall election” found at Wikipedia.org.
a) If the Thai constitution allowed for a recall election of the Prime Minister, should the people attempt to do so? Explain your answer.
b) What negative effects might there be with allowing the recall of the head of a government?
6. Should Prime Minister Shinawatra resign? Explain your answer.
Thailand’s government is a constitutional monarchy with two legislative houses; its chief of state is the king, and the head of government is the prime minister. The king has little direct power under the constitution but is the anointed protector of Thai Buddhism and a symbol of national identity and unity.
For a brief history of Thailand’s government, go to the Thailand Embassy’s website here. Choose “Politics” in left nav bar, click on “Government and Politics” in the center of the page, then click on the top bullet point: “An Overview of Government and Politics in Thailand”
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