Q&A: Thailand anti-government protests

Protest outside the defence ministry in Bangkok on 28 November 2013 The protests began in November and have continued to shut down parts of Bangkok

Thailand has been hit by months of mass protests as part of a long-running political battle. The BBC looks at the factors behind the protests and at what the demonstrators want.

What started the protests?

Demonstrations kicked off in November after Thailand's lower house passed a controversial amnesty bill which critics said could allow former leader Thaksin Shinawatra to return without serving time in jail.

Mr Thaksin, one of the most polarising characters in Thai politics, was ousted in a military coup in 2006. He now lives in self-imposed exile overseas after being convicted of corruption, but remains popular with many rural voters.

The amnesty bill, which was proposed by his sister Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai Party, was eventually rejected by the Senate. However, anti-government protests continued and new demands emerged.

Analysis: Protesters' challenge

line break
Who are the protesters?
Suthep Thaugsuban waves to supporters during an anti-government march to the Government complex in Bangkok, Thailand, 27 November 2013 Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban wants the government to step down

The demonstrations are being led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Thai deputy prime minister who resigned from the opposition Democrat Party to lead the rallies.

The protesters - who tend to be urban and middle-class voters - are united by their opposition to Mr Thaksin, and their belief that he is still controlling the current Pheu Thai government.

Thaksin-allied parties have won the last five elections, because of their rural support base.

Mr Suthep and his supporters say they want to wipe out the "political machine of Thaksin" and install an unelected "people's council" to reform the political system.

The protesters say the government has been buying votes with irresponsible spending pledges aimed at its support base - thereby creating a flawed democracy and harming the Thai economy.

Profile: Suthep Thaugsuban and Thailand's protesters

line break
How have the protests unfolded?

Anti-government activists want the political system to be reformed

At least 20 people have died over the course of the protests, which began when about 100,000 protesters took to Bangkok's streets on 24 November.

The first week was largely peaceful, even as protesters blockaded roads and government ministries, but turned deadly when violence broke out near a pro-government "red-shirt" rally on 30 November.

On 8 December, all the opposition MPs in parliament resigned. Protesters marched on Government House, the prime minister's office, the next day.

In response, Ms Yingluck called a snap election for 2 February, which her government was widely expected to win.

In January, as the polls loomed, protesters closed off key road junctions in Bangkok, in a bid to put more pressure on the government.

On 2 February, the elections proceeded as scheduled. However, the opposition boycotted the polls, and voting was disrupted by protesters at around 10% of polling stations, meaning by-elections are needed before a government can be formed.

The police for the most part have not sought to confront the protesters, in a bid to avoid violence. But on 18 February, police moved to clear some of the sites occupied by protesters, sparking further deadly clashes.

The most recent deaths were caused by a bomb blast at anti-government protest on 23 February, which killed one woman and two children. A child was also killed at a rally on 22 February.

Those responsible for the attacks have yet to be identified, with both pro and anti-government groups accusing each other.

line break
What will happen next?
PM Yingluck Shinawatra arrives at the Army Club before a cabinet meeting in Bangkok on 28 January 2014 Ms Yingluck leads a government that won elections in 2011

Amid a very tense climate, various legal moves could also potentially complicate the situation.

On 8 January, the anti-corruption body said it would charge more than 300 politicians - mostly from the ruling party - over an attempt to make the Senate fully elected. This could ultimately lead to the lawmakers being banned from politics.

Thailand's constitutional court, meanwhile, has rejected a request by the opposition Democratic Party to annul the election, citing insufficient grounds. Results have yet to be announced.

Thai government officials have been discussing how to complete the polls. The Election Commission said that late April would be the earliest time for the by-elections but the government says reruns must be held much sooner to meet the constitutional requirement for parliament to sit within a month of the main voting day.

The country's anti-corruption body also said on 18 February that it would file charges against Ms Yingluck in connection with a controversial government rice subsidy scheme - a move that could potentially force Ms Yingluck from politics.

Governments of Mr Thaksin's allies have been forced from power in the past by legal rulings. And the last election that was boycotted by the opposition, in 2006, was subsequently annulled.

Thai lawmakers face Senate probe

Thai PM probed over 'corrupt rice subsidy scheme'

line break
What about the government supporters?
Thai pro-government "Red Shirts" at a rally in Bangkok on 24 November 2013 The "red-shirts" have mostly stayed away so far - but their return could trigger clashes

The government won the elections in 2011 with support from voters in mostly rural areas of the country, especially the north and north-east.

So far the "red-shirts" - the government supporters who shut down parts of Bangkok in 2010 to protest against a government led by the current opposition party - have for the most part remained off the streets.

But "red-shirt" leaders say they will take to the streets if the military ousts the current government.

Observers fear that if they were to decide to protest, an escalation in violence would follow. In January, a prominent "red-shirt" leader was injured in a drive-by shooting, in what police said they believed was a politically-motivated attack.

Inside Thailand's 'red villages'

line break
What impact will the protests have?
Anti-government protesters hold up posters denouncing Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok (29 November 2013) Thaksin Shinawatra remains a divisive figure in Thailand

Ms Yingluck warned early on that further protests could cause the economy to deteriorate. Protests in 2008 and 2010 hit Thailand's economy hard, especially the business and tourism sectors.

This time, several countries have issued travel warnings for Thailand.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for violence "from any quarter" to end immediately.

The concern is that once again Thailand is deeply divided, with the issue of Mr Thaksin and his role in the country's future an apparently unresolvable one - suggesting the cycle of instability will continue.

Thailand protests may cast cloud over economic growth

Economic impact explained

More Asia stories


Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Phantom BadgerReporting for duty

    BBC Autos discovers what makes Boeing’s new versatile and transportable war machine so special


  • Papers Please gameClick Watch

    Meet the ‘bedroom programmer’ whose game has sold half a million copies and won a Bafta

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.