Pro-election movement begins to make voice heard in Thailand

Angered by opposition protests, movement spreads online and in streets

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 6:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 6:01am

Angered by opposition protests seeking to thwart polls, a burgeoning pro-election movement in Thailand is taking a stand to demand their votes are respected, with candlelight vigils and Facebook campaigns.

Seeking a middle ground in a bitterly divisive political conflict, the kingdom's newest street activist group aims to challenge anti-government demonstrators who want to install an unelected "people's council" to run the country.

"We want to vote. We want to vote! February 2, go to vote!," several hundred campaigners chanted while holding candles in a central Bangkok park this week.

"Now Thai people don't listen to one another, so we want them to see the light instead," said one of the campaign organisers, who asked not to be named for fear of being targeted by rival demonstrators.

Opponents of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have staged more than two months of street protests aimed at forcing her elected government from office.

They aim to curb the political dominance of Yingluck's billionaire brother, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they accuse of controlling the government from self-exile.

Thousands marched in the centre of the city yesterday. "We have to go on with our fight because what we are doing is for our country," rally leader Suthep Thaugsuban said, although he added the movement was on "full alert".

Suthep was nearby when an explosion tore through Friday's march as protesters neared a busy intersection in the shopping district of the city.

The capital's Erawan emergency centre said the blast left one dead and 37 injured, with 11 remaining in hospital.

But a growing number of Thais are starting to speak out to insist the protests are not in their name.

Several Facebook pages supporting the election and seeking a peaceful solution have been set up. People have posted photographs of themselves online holding signs which read "Respect My Vote".

The pro-election supporters are mostly Bangkok residents ranging from professors to university students, activists and celebrities, carrying out symbolic activities such as releasing white balloons and wearing white shirts as a sign of neutrality in the country's colour-coded political conflict.

"The protesters have generalised that all Bangkokians are on their side, but we are the people who have been frustrated and pressured for a long time," said Patcharee Angkoontassaneeyarat, the administrator of one of the pro-election Facebook pages.

"The protests have gone beyond the limits of our patience. We also want to make our voices heard," added Patcharee.

Thailand has been rocked by years of rival protest movements - notably the royalist "yellow shirts" and their arch-rivals the "red shirts", who are broadly supportive of Yingluck and Thaksin.

Experts say a "third voice" is now spreading. "They are people not only in Bangkok but also in towns in other provinces who have been patient up to now, but one day they just could not stand it anymore," Puangthong Pawakapan, professor of political science at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said.