Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

Netanyahu deletes tweet featuring photo of James Foley

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 22 August 2014 (part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 22 August 2014

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Read more

FOCUS

Lifting the veil over China's air pollution

Read more

ENCORE!

Tango Takeover in Paris

Read more

WEB NEWS

Calls for ISIS media blackout after execution of James Foley

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'Steely resolve of reporters exploited by pared-down employers'

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

US judge calls Argentina bond swap offer illegal

Read more

  • French teenage girls held over Syria jihad plans

    Read more

  • Israel pounds Gaza but phones targets with warnings

    Read more

  • Bombs across Iraq kill dozens as violence escalates

    Read more

  • Good borders make good neighbours, Merkel tells Ukraine

    Read more

  • Iceland issues aviation alert on volcano activity

    Read more

  • France will not be 'be pushed around' by Germany

    Read more

  • Libya withdraws as Africa Cup of Nations host

    Read more

  • ‘European GPS’ satellites launched into wrong orbit

    Read more

  • Video: Israel bombs kidnapping suspect’s home

    Read more

  • US brands journalist’s beheading a ‘terrorist attack’

    Read more

  • Ebola prompts Philippines to recall UN troops in Liberia

    Read more

  • Besieged by problems, Hollande faces unhappy return from summer holidays

    Read more

  • US sued over ‘deportation mill’ in New Mexico

    Read more

  • Colombian army and FARC rebels in face-to-face talks

    Read more

  • US National Guard starts to pull out of embattled Ferguson

    Read more

  • August 22, 1914: The bloodiest day in French military history

    Read more

  • US job market yet to recover from recession, says Fed Chair

    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)