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Can Thailand Break Its Coup Addiction?

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
December 4, 2013


Over the past week, Thailand's political unrest has descended into serious, chaotic violence. On Monday and Tuesday, protesters entered the grounds of both police headquarters and Government House, having already occupied other ministries. Last weekend at least three people were killed in clashes between anti-government protesters, pro-government supporters, police, and unidentified agitators. Dozens more were wounded, and parts of Bangkok near government ministries now look more like Syria-esque war zones than the streets of one of the most cosmopolitan capitals in Southeast Asia.

As protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban declares that there will be no surrender, demanding the prime minister step down and hand over power to an unelected "people's council" of leaders, the chance of an extra-constitutional intervention— a military coup or an intervention by the royal palace—grows higher and higher. Already, the demonstrators have been able to take extraordinary steps that would have been unthinkable in most parliamentary democracies: occupying ministries, issuing deadlines to the government, taking over media outlets.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government has responded weakly, allowing the demonstrators to just march into ministries, because government leaders know that if they take tough measures and many people are killed or wounded, the army—no fan of Yingluck or her populist party—would likely intervene. Indeed, Suthep already has declared that the armed forces are on the side of the protesters, who are primarily urban and middle class rather than the working class, rural supporters of Yingluck.

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