BANGKOK: The battle is about to begin. It could turn ugly. After leading an anti-government rally for almost a month, culminating with a historic “one-million-man” gathering at Rajdamnoen Avenue gathering on Sunday, Suthep Thaugsuban has realised that winning this war won’t be easy. He had to escalate the level of civil disobedience. The strategy is to win support from the civil servants. If they agree to walk away from their posts, government machinery will come to a halt.

The protesters have marched on key ministries and government agencies in Bangkok, and city halls in the provinces, in a bid to get the civil servants on their side. Many have welcomed the protesters, willing to risk upsetting their superiors by taking sides during this time of political turmoil. Suthep hopes to hang on and garner more support from the masses, forcing a sudden change of government. But how?

Having survived the no-confidence debate, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra went on national television to extend an olive branch.

She offered a truce, saying that the rally should stop and that the government is willing to hold talks with the protesters. But Suthep has vowed to fight on until the anti-government campaign achieves a clear-cut victory. The former deputy prime minister, who resigned as an MP to lead the protest, refuses to negotiate. He has vowed that neither a House dissolution nor Yingluck’s resignation will end the campaign. What he wants is for the so-called Thaksin regime to be uprooted once and for all. Only then would Thailand be able to begin a reform process to get rid of money politics and bring about a true democracy. It is not clear how the confrontation will end. There is no compromise in sight. Yingluck will fight back to hold on to power. Suthep has caught a tiger by its tail and now he can only end the rally by killing that tiger. Yingluck has the power.

State machinery, particularly the formidable police force, is under her control. Suthep, meanwhile, has mass support. It is an incredible time for Thai politics. The protesters are heart-and-soul behind Suthep. They don’t consider him a politician. They are not questioning his political background. They only want to follow his leadership to oust the Yingluck government, which they firmly believe is operating under the remote control of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

On Tuesday night, as protesters roamed the compound of the Finance Ministry, Suthep was afraid of being snatched by the police. The threat of a police ambush - tear gas followed by the arrest of Suthep and other protest leaders - loomed large.

He asked the protesters to form a barricade to defend the compound. The protest-friendly social media did their work. Hearing that Suthep was in trouble, many people rushed in cars and trucks to block the access to the Finance Ministry in Soi Aree and also shut down the expressway exit. They also surrounded police gathered nearby, taking them out of the equation. Fortunately, there were no serious clashes or injuries.

However, a contentious legal dispute is looming. The Constitutional Court has ruled that more than 300 MPs and senators violated the Constitution and the law in voting for charter amendments. The government argues the court has no right to rule over Parliament’s attempt to amend the charter. If the National Anti-Corruption Commission picks up the case, MPs will automatically be ordered to halt their duties.

Going forward, the confrontation will be a mouse-and-cat game. The government has exercised restraint, allowing the protests to spread to different parts of Bangkok and throughout the country. But at a certain point, the police force might decide to take on Suthep and the protesters. It is not clear as yet as to how the military would react if the government started to crack down against the protesters. But a clash now looks inevitable.

By arrangement with The Nation/ANN

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