The battle for who holds Thailand’s seat of power has taken on a new twist as the leader of anti-government protests planned to set up his office at the vacated Government House while the country’s new caretaker leader worked from a makeshift, suburban outpost.
The development on Monday was the latest to highlight the government’s lack of power as Thailand’s political crisis grinds into its seventh month. One newspaper compared the political situation to a sinking ship called the “Thaitanic”.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who has led the movement for six months, has called for a “final push” to install an unelected new prime minister – a goal that critics call undemocratic but supporters say is a necessary step for implementing anti-corruption reforms before a new election can take place.
Suthep planned to end a months-long occupation of the city’s main park on Monday and march his followers across Bangkok to the prime minister’s office compound, called Government House, which has been vacant for months after violent clashes between protesters and police nearby.
Suthep says he will not occupy the actual prime minister’s office inside the compound’s stately Gothic-style main building, but will base himself in the adjacent Santi Maitree Building traditionally used for state visits. In more stable times, the building was used for meetings with dignitaries such as President Barack Obama and Myanmar’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
There was no apparent resistance to Suthep’s plan. The military that provides security at Government House said over the weekend he would be allowed in to avoid further clashes in a crisis that has left more than 20 dead and hundreds injured since November.
Protesters achieved one of their goals last week when the Constitutional Court dismissed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for nepotism in a case that many viewed as politically motivated.
Analysts, protesters and Thai media agree that the ruling did little to resolve the country’s political turmoil.
“Every so often, the stewards of the nation rearrange the deck chairs, as ‘Thaitanic’ continues to plough relentlessly further into uncharted territory, without a captain,” The Bangkok Post newspaper said in a Sunday editorial. “The ship is still heading right for that iceberg.”