This month, thousands of anti-government protesters have rallied in the Thai capital Bangkok, at first turning out against a bill that would have offered amnesty to deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, but continuing to protest after the bill was defeated. In an email interview, Duncan McCargo, professor of Southeast Asian politics at University of Leeds, explained what’s driving Thailand’s recent protests and their likely effects on Thai politics.
WPR: What do Thailand's recent protests mean for the stability of the government under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra?
Duncan McCargo: Thailand has a long tradition of political rallies and protests; street demonstrations by anti-government groups in Bangkok are nothing new. To date, the number of people taking part has been relatively small, and there is no obvious threat yet to the stability of the elected government, which commands a strong parliamentary majority. Protests typically cannot bring down governments unless they have the backing of key figures linked to the military or royalist elite—what I have termed the “network monarchy.” While many in the conservative establishment are not delighted with the current government, they are also well aware that suspending electoral politics—as happened for more than a year after the 2006 military coup—could easily create far more problems than it would solve. For this reason, the anti-government demonstrators remain marginalized: They have no real answers to the country’s political problems.