Bangkok residents debate democracy ahead of looming city shutdown

Reporter Joanna Chiu took to the streets to find out what city residents think of the latest political developments

Thousands of anti-government protesters will march through Bangkok this week to build momentum ahead of their planned January 13 shutdown of the capital.

Protesters are vowing to prevent government officials from going to work in the run up to the scheduled February 2 elections, in a bid to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Anti-government protests have been roiling Bangkok since November, triggered by a proposed amnesty bill that would facilitate the return of Yingluck’s brother and exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed from office by military coup in 2006.

As tensions escalated, on December 8 Yingluck dissolved the parliament and called for snap elections. In response, protesters rallied to block candidates from making preparations, leading to violent clashes between riot police and protesters.

Thailand’s main opposition Democrat Party, which has not won a national election in more than 20 years, supports the protests and plans to boycott the election. Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party is popular in most parts of the country, helped by populist policies introduced by Thaksin that target rural areas.

Demonstrators, led by former lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban, want democracy to be suspended for a year or more, whereby an unelected “people’s council” would implement political reforms.

Protesters are now dismantling their base near the Democracy Monument in order to regroup at 20 major intersections during the shutdown.

The South China Morning Post spoke with demonstrators over the last few days of their occupation at the Democracy Monument, and spoke with others in the capital. Anti-government and Thaksin supporters expressed fear of escalating conflict and violence in the year ahead.

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