Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

IN THE PAPERS

Coverage of the third plane crash in one week - from France, Algeria and Burkina Faso

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Coverage of the plane crash that took 116 lives - almost half of them French

Read more

DEBATE

Gaza: A Truce At All Costs?

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Central African Republic: Brazzaville ceasefire talks deliver fragile deal

Read more

FOCUS

Sluggish tourist season in Crimea

Read more

ENCORE!

Bartabas : Mixing Christ with Spanish music and dancing horses

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Shifts in the propaganda war waged between Israelis and Palestinians

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

French MPs face quandary in pro-Palestinian rallies

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Yezid Sayigh, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut

Read more

  • Live: ‘No survivors’ from Algerian plane crash, says Hollande

    Read more

  • Protest against Gaza offensive turns deadly in West Bank

    Read more

  • Wreckage of Algeria plane found in Mali

    Read more

  • Deadly strike on UN shelter in Gaza Strip

    Read more

  • BNP to pay $80 million for defrauding Dept of Agriculture

    Read more

  • Pope meets Christian woman sentenced to death in Sudan

    Read more

  • Air Algérie crash: 'We should eliminate the missile hypothesis'

    Read more

  • Italy’s Nibali cruises to victory in 18th stage of Tour de France

    Read more

  • Iraqi parliament elects moderate Kurd as president

    Read more

  • US, European agencies lift travel restrictions to Tel Aviv

    Read more

  • No end to fighting until Israel ends Gaza blockade, Hamas says

    Read more

  • Two foreign women shot dead in western Afghanistan

    Read more

  • At least 60 killed in attack on prison convoy near Baghdad

    Read more

Asia-pacific

Thai protesters embrace controversial leader

© AFP

Text by Charlotte BOITIAUX

Latest update : 2013-12-04

Former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban has taken the lead in rolling street protests to overthrow Thailand’s government. Hailed as a hero by the angry opposition movement, he is regarded by others as violent and corrupt.

As angry anti-government protests in Thailand enter their second week, former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, 64, has emerged as the leader of the movement bent on toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

A veteran of Thai politics, the silver-haired Suthep appears to be embracing that role with enthusiasm, and has used this newfound platform to urge protesters to step up their fight against the so-called “Thaksin system”.

Yingluck, who came to power after the 2011 elections, is the sister of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and later sentenced to serve two years in jail on corruption charges – a punishment he has so far avoided.

Suthep is among critics who say Thaksin is still pulling the strings from abroad, and that the current government in Bangkok needs to be swept aside.

“He is an uncompromising figure who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals,” said Cyril Payen, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Thailand. “He doesn’t seem to be scared of anything.”

Through his fiery speeches, the opposition figure has enflamed passions in the already deeply divided country, and a repeat of the 2010 bloodbath between pro-Thaksin “red shirts” and opposition “yellow shirts” seems close at hand.

Dangerous wager

Born to a wealthy landowning family, Suthep was a high-ranking member of the centre-right Democrat Party until his resignation last week to become the leader of the protest movement.

Since the most recent wave of anti-government protests hit Bangkok beginning on November 24, he has become somewhat of an icon. His face has been splashed on cars, walls and tee-shirts.

His Facebook account has ballooned virtually overnight to over 500,000 fans.

Appealing in particular to the ultra-nationalists and royalists among the yellow camp, he has called on protesters to invade and reclaim government buildings.

The strategy appears to be paying off. In an effort to avoid more deadly clashes, police lifted concrete barriers and barbwire protecting government buildings on Tuesday.

But Suthep’s sudden fame has also won him critics, who warn that the politician is making dangerous wagers in a personal quest for power.

“He is hoping to instigate a violent confrontation between protesters and police, and thus force the military to intervene,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor at Chulalongkorn University told French daily Le Figaro recently.

Murky past

According to FRANCE 24’s Payen, Suthep's portrayal as a “white knight” who has come to save the kingdom masks a murky past.

Writing in the Asia Sentinel online news site last week, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, pointed out that Suthep is one of the leaders responsible for a deadly crackdown on red-shirt demonstrators in 2010 that killed more than 90 people and injured some 2,000 more.

“The transformation from killer into a national hero has begun; and in this process, Suthep has risen to become the new face of 'moral protector' in Thai politics.

“Again and again, Thais are witnessing the deep irony within the domain of Thai politics when immoral politicians themselves enjoy preaching about morality,” Pavin noted.

His political rise is also tainted by allegations of embezzlement and collusion with powerful and wealthy figures in Thailand’s south.

Payen said that while Suthep has become the public face of the anti-government movement, that murky past could easily catch up with him.

“He has neither the stature nor the financial means to rise to the pinnacle of power by himself,” Payen noted.

Date created : 2013-12-03

  • THAILAND

    Anti-government protesters storm Thai ministries

    Read more

  • THAILAND

    Protest in Thailand as parliament debates amnesty bill

    Read more

  • THAILAND

    Thaksin's sister leads party in landslide election victory

    Read more

COMMENT(S)