Thousands of opposition supporters gathered at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on Thursday to protest against the military-backed 2007 constitution and to call for the resignation of the government.
More than 10,000 protestors had gathered at the monument by early afternoon.
Leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) vowed to protest until midnight on Thursday, which is Constitution Day and a national holiday in Thailand.
The UDD, which openly backs the return to power of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawtara, who was ousted by a coup in September 2006, has vowed to bring down the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, in the coming months.
Mr. Thaksin, who has been living in self-exile since last year to avoid a two-year jail term for abuse of power, is scheduled to address the rally at 7 pm (1200 GMT) via a satellite link.
“I want the government to fall,” said Noi, an opposition supporter from Pathum Thani province. “This government is chicken. They always try to discredit the red-shirt [opposition] movement.” An opposition protest planned on November 28 was cancelled out of deference to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who marked his 82nd birthday on Saturday.
The king, a pillar of stability and national unity during his 63-year reign, has been in hospital since September 19, but made a brief birthday appearance last weekend.
Mr. Abhisit’s government attempted to use the king’s ongoing birthday celebrations to urge the opposition to call off Thursday’s demonstration as well.
The UDD supports the revocation of the 2007 constitution, which was drafted by a military-backed committee in the aftermath of the last coup, and the reinstatement of the 1997 document.
The 1997 constitution encouraged the strengthening of the political party system while the 2007 charter is pro-bureaucracy. The 1997 constitution also paved the way for the rise to power of Mr. Thaksin, a billionaire former telecommunications tycoon who was prime minister between 2001 and 2006.
Civilian rule arguably peaked under Mr. Thaksin, but his moves to monopolize Thai politics and abuse his expanded powers led to widespread disillusionment with him, and by extension with democracy, among Thailand’s middle class and political elite.
Mr. Thaksin’s downfall has left Thailand deeply divided, with the majority of the Bangkok-based middle class and elite staunchly against him while many rural and urban poor still see him as a saviour and equalizing force in society.
With his vast fortune, Mr. Thaksin is known to be a key financer of both the opposition demonstrators and the Puea Thai opposition party, which are working hand in hand to bring down the coalition government under Democrat leader Abhisit.
Mr. Thaksin is known to be in a hurry to bring about political change, because the Supreme Court is due to rule soon on whether the state will seize 76 billion baht (2 billion dollars) in his family’s bank accounts that was frozen in the aftermath of the 2006 coup.
“Does this rally have anything to do with the constitution, and not with the Supreme Court’s ruling on Mr. Thaksin’s 76 billion baht?” wrote Pornpimol Kanchanalak, in an editorial that appeared in The Nation newspaper on Thursday.
“The court will close the prosecuting witness arguments by the end of this week, and has 30 days to deliver the verdict,” she noted.
Few observers believe the verdict will be in favour of Mr. Thaksin.