Thailand's armed forces took centre stage yesterday in the country's ongoing political drama, showing off its gentler side in hosting a forum to allow the leader of a protest movement to present his demand for an immediate change of government.
The military did not indicate whether it would act on the protesters' behalf, and protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban repeated his position that caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra must step down and an interim, non-elected government administer the country before any new polls are held.
An election has been called for February.
Thailand's military is historically noted for intervening during political crises, staging about a dozen coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, and using the threat of force for leverage.
But its interventions in recent decades have been messy. In 1992, the army shot dead dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators protesting a military-backed government in the streets of Bangkok, the capital, and in 2010 repeated the bloodshed in quashing another uprising.
The army's 2006 coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, was a bloodless one, but was followed by the installation of an inept interim government.
The coup also polarised the country, which has seen Thaksin's supporters and opponents contending for power ever since, sometimes violently.
Suthep and his "People's Democratic Reform Committee" want new laws to banish corruption in politics to be implemented ahead of any election.
The protesters say Thai politics is hopelessly corrupt under the alleged continuing influence of Thaksin, who has lived in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid jail time on a corruption charge.