Many demonstrators are loyal to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire who won over the poor in the northeast of the country by giving them cheap health care and loans. The demonstrators, angered by one of Asia’s widest income gaps, say Abhisit embodies a privileged class of military officers, judges bureaucrats and royal advisers that sits above the law.
Korbsak Sabhavasu, an Abhisit aide who is leading negotiations with the Red Shirts, said yesterday in an interview that Thaksin is blocking a negotiated settlement by insisting that his corruption conviction be overturned.
Thaksin, who was ousted by the Thai army in 2006, said in a statement on May 16 that he wanted both sides to step back. He fled the country in 2008 before a court sentenced him to two years in prison for helping his wife buy land from the government while still in power. Since 1946, when King Bhumibol Adulyadej took the Thai throne as an 18-year-old, Thailand has seen nine coups and more than 20 prime ministers. Only two of 17 constitutions since absolute monarchy ended in 1932 have mandated parliaments that are entirely elected. The king, who is revered across the nation, has been in hospital since Sept. 19 and hasn’t spoken publicly about the current demonstrations.
Abhisit himself has never won a national election: He was picked by legislators in December 2008 after a court dissolved the pro-Thaksin ruling party for election fraud. The decision coincided with the seizure of Bangkok’s airports by protesters wearing yellow shirts who oppose Thaksin.