Could the protests in Thailand lead to another coup?

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". It's definitely not business as usual in Bangkok,Thailand right now. Thai opposition leaders have launched a “Shutdown Bangkok” campaign, blocking intersections and generally paralyzing the capital. The opposition has been holding protests in Bangkok since November, demanding that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down. The Prime Minister has responded by dissolving parliament and scheduling new elections for February 2nd. There’s also speculation about a possible coup which, says Bangkok-based journalist Ron Gluckman, wouldn’t be a first for Thailand. Ron Gluckman: They’ve had more coups than anywhere else in the region. Over the last eighty years they’ve had eighteen coups. I’d describe it a bit as Game of Thrones. There’s a lot of different powers and then you have two major mitigating forces. One is the royalty, which the King here is the longest reigning monarch on earth, but he’s eighty-six and his ability to moderate the political situation is diminished. He has his own succession concerns. And the other mitigating force has been the military and nobody really wants them to intrude in the political process. Werman: Well, let’s get back to today’s protests and who is protesting. I mean it’s not the lumpenproletariat. I gather that even your neighbor who’s a surgeon has been out there protesting. What did he tell you he’s protesting about? Why is he upset? Gluckman: He’s a retired surgeon. I believe he’s the top heart surgeon in the country. He and his wife were all dressed up the other day and they said they were going to the protest. I think it indicates an intense amount of dissatisfaction among the educated, the business classes, the movers and shakers of society. Werman: And so why now? Are they just at the end of their rope? Gluckman: I’ll have to give you just a little bit of background to understand this. There’s two major political parties. The Democratic Party is in the opposition right now and they’re the ones out in the streets protesting, and they were provoked into these protests because the ruling party, it’s led by a Thaksin Shinawatra who is like the most powerful figure in modern Thai history. He was the first Prime Minister to ever finish his term and he was re-elected, but he’s in exile now, charges of corruptions he’s been stripped of his passport. The party is headed by his sister and he is believed to rule the country . . . Werman: That would be Yingluck Shinawatra. Gluckman: She never held any political office before she became Prime Minister. A couple of times she has pushed forward measures that have been amnesty measures and these blanket amnesty measures of course would include her brother and there’s this huge anger and concern that he will come back and the situation will get even worse. So she tried to push through a bill in October. A number of the opposition party, the democrats, resigned and started a protest movement which this has evolved into. Werman: So who does Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have as her supporters? Who’s left? Gluckman: The Thaksin supporters are the more-populous north of the country, the north and the northeast which is the big agriculture areas, and they’re vehemently behind Thaksin. They see him as a man of the people that cares about the poor. So we have the north versus the south also. And the protests that are going on in Bangkok which are huge, we had a hundred and seventy thousand people on Monday for the launch and since then, in the last days, they’ve moved into parks, into government buildings. They’re planning to stay out on the streets and keep things shut down. But in the countryside, there’s rallies starting now in opposition to the democrats, in support of the current government, and the huge concern is if they clash, at some point some of the northerners come to Bangkok. And that’s what happened in 2010 when we had the big death toll of nearly a hundred people. Werman: A lot of tension it seems. I mean democratic opposition versus the Prime Minister, country versus city, elite versus commoner. Where is all this headed do you think? Gluckman: Well, that’s the big problem. There’s not a lot of compromise. The opposition that walked out, they’ve been offered new elections, but what the opposition is proposing is a suspension of the constitution. It seems like a couple of steps backwards. Werman: Well, we’ll keep watching the story. Ron Gluckman, freelance journalist based in Bangkok. Thank you very much. Gluckman: Thanks so much.