Déjà vu with a difference as Thai PM faces down protesters

Déjà vu with a difference as Thai PM faces down protesters

BANGKOK - The French have the best phrase for Thailand's turbulent politics: déjà vu.

Five years ago, a Thai government led by Somchai Wongsawat, the brother-in-law of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was besieged by ultraroyalist street protesters bent on overthrowing what they saw as a corrupt and illegitimate regime.

Today, another Thaksin relative, his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, is prime minister, and Bangkok's streets are again overrun by thousands of Thais proclaiming their hatred of Thaksin and their love for the long-reigning King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

But déjà vu has its limits. The hapless Somchai spent less than three months in office. But Yingluck, while facing the biggest threat yet to her administration, is proving much harder to dislodge.

The campaign against Yingluck began in earnest after her ruling Puea Thai Party tried to pass an amnesty bill that critics said would have nullified the graft conviction of her billionaire brother Thaksin, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup.

At least 100,000 people gathered in old Bangkok on Sunday to demand Yingluck's overthrow. Tens of thousands have since fanned out across the capital, occupying the Finance Ministry and laying siege to other ministries and government offices.

Thousands more have massed at city halls in dozens of provinces.

On Thursday, protesters cut power to the national police headquarters in Bangkok in a tense stand-off that seemed designed to provoke a heavy-handed response from Yingluck.

So far, however, she has not obliged. With the number of protesters apparently dwindling, she easily survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on Thursday, before appealing to protesters to halt their action and enter talks with the government.

Suthep Thaungsuban, the firebrand politician who resigned from the opposition Democrat Party to lead the protests, has rejected talks and vowed to continue his campaign to "uproot Thaksinism".

But his hardline tactics could be alienating moderate supporters, while his quirky political vision perplexes even his natural allies in the Democrat Party. Suthep's idea for a"people's parliament" to replace Yingluck's administration, for example, was rejected by Korn Chatikavanij, a senior Democrat member and former finance minister.

"I have no idea what Suthep means by a 'people's parliament'," Korn told Reuters.

"We think the best way to find a solution to all of this is for the government to resign and dissolve parliament."

Yingluck says she will not dissolve parliament and call a snap election. While she appeared fraught at the end of the two-day confidence debate, the former business executive has since regained her trademark composure and seems determined to outlast the protests.

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