In front of the Royal Thai Army Club the thuggish rump of a failed people’s revolution gathered to collect their reward. They were to hear the announcement of a temporary interruption of Thai democracy, so that an appointed council of “good men”, as dreamed up by their leader Suthep Thaugsuban, could save the country. Mr Suthep, a former deputy prime minister with the opposition Democrat party, was to be disappointed. There was already a stink of testosterone and aggression in the air. Young men, new veterans of a three-month-long protest against the government, were perched on lorries. They threatened by megaphone to storm the club and rid Thailand of the influence of the “Thaksin regime”, meaning Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister (pictured above); as well as her brother, the former prime minister, Thaksin, whom they see as pulling the strings from his refuge in Dubai; and everyone close to them. The protesters are calling their own movement “The People’s Committee for Absolute Democracy with the King as Head of State”. Here at the army club, miles away from the shopping malls and offices in the heart of Bangkok, Mr Suthep’s insurrection has to make do without the benefit of its more well-heeled supporters, the ones who post their revolutionary slogans on the walls of Facebook.
The army club made for an ironic venue. In the past its membership would have staged a coup and cut short the drama that was playing out inside. The prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra (now only the caretaker prime minister), was locked in talks with the election commission over whether to suspend a snap poll which had been scheduled for February 2nd. Before the meeting, the commission had cited the possibility of violence and disruption as a reason for its demand: to delay the poll for 120 days. The constitutional court had ruled just days earlier that the election could be postponed in accordance with the constitution, though their ruling was apparently without legal basis. So, it extemporised, any delay must be settled by agreement between the government and the election commission. The government, for its part, insisted that the poll must go ahead. It was not deterred either by the commission’s inability to organise advance polling in the capital Bangkok on January 26th or by the killing of one of the anti-government protest leaders.
A dozen ambulances were parked outside the army club, which created the strange sense that the imminent meltdown of Thailand’s democracy might have medical consequences. Then, as if on cue, a shooting: a self-appointed guard of the protesters was shot in the leg and packed off to hospital bleeding, the gunman apprehended from the back of a motorbike. But soon the attention turned from the blood on the pavement back to the scheduled event, inside the club. Soldiers had begun trying to talk protesters out of their siege.
Two hours later, after the army had dispersed the crowds from the scene, the government announced that it would go ahead with the poll. This was unexpected. It was just two days earlier that roving mobs of anti-government protesters managed to shut down all 50 of the polling stations open for early voting in Bangkok. Early polling went ahead in 66 out of 77 provinces, but only 440,000 people, or 22% of the 2m eligible voters, cast their ballot.
Full Article: Elections in Thailand: The show must go on | The Economist.