Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - July 25th, 2014

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Search of Air Algerie crash site continues

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Sarkozy, Hollande and the scooter wars

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Confusion online over Air Algérie flight

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - July 25th, 2014 (part 2)

Read more

REPORTERS

Halal tourism on the rise

Read more

ENCORE!

Tunisia's Carthage International Festival turns 50

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

WWI Centenary: the battle for Verdun

Read more

THE BUSINESS INTERVIEW

When big companies want to do good

Read more

  • UN Security Council calls for immediate Gaza ceasefire

    Read more

  • France mourns victims of Air Algérie Flight AH5017

    Read more

  • France calls on its nationals to leave Libya as violence escalates

    Read more

  • Video: Slaviansk mourns mass grave victims

    Read more

  • Nibali joins elite group with Tour de France win

    Read more

  • Boko Haram kidnap Cameroon minister's wife in deadly attack

    Read more

  • Muslims prepare for Eid al-Fitr festival

    Read more

  • ‘Irresponsible’ American dad tries to scale Mont Blanc with children

    Read more

  • Ukraine fighting prevents observers from accessing MH17 crash site

    Read more

  • In pictures: Crowds flock to enjoy the Tour de France show

    Read more

  • Netanyahu says Hamas 'violating its own ceasefire'

    Read more

  • Video: At the scene of the Air Algérie crash in Mali

    Read more

  • Costa Concordia arrives in port of Genoa to be scrapped

    Read more

  • In pictures: Youths clash with police at banned Gaza protest

    Read more

  • Russia lashes out at new EU sanctions over Ukraine

    Read more

  • Bodies of all Air Algérie crash victims to be brought to France

    Read more

  • Syrian army and ISIS both claim advances

    Read more

  • Briton kidnapped in Yemen freed after five months

    Read more

  • New round of Gaza ceasefire talks takes place in Paris

    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)