BANGKOK Jan 13 The Thai Foreign Ministry once
occupied a neoclassical palace built for a revered 19th-century
To find the ministry today, you must search the corridors of
a half-deserted Bangkok convention centre for a modest room
where top officials relocated on Monday to avoid citywide
protests - one of many back-up arrangements for a government
struggling to fend off protesters besieging the capital.
"We roam around," said Sek Wannamethee, director-general of
the ministry's information department, with a mirthless laugh.
"Tomorrow we might have to find another place."
That's because the convention centre sits next door to
Thailand's stock exchange, which protesters have threatened to
target next as part of their two-month-old campaign to topple
caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government.
Tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets for
Monday's so-called Bangkok Shutdown in a bid to paralyse the
city and render Thailand ungovernable.
But as every computer user knows, the best way to cope with
unwanted shutdowns is to back-up. This explains why copies of
various government ministries and departments are cropping up in
often unlikely places across Bangkok and nearby provinces.
The Finance Ministry, which was stormed and occupied by
protesters for several weeks last year, is now shut and its
staff working from home or satellite offices.
Its Comptroller General's Department, which manages
government expenditure, has moved to premises owned by the Royal
Thai Air Force. The Public Debt Management Office (PDMO), which
oversees government bond auctions and debt servicing, has moved
to a nearby office block.
The Commerce Ministry is operating from an arts and crafts
centre in neighbouring Ayuthaya province.
The Bank of Thailand said it had closed its main office and
moved operations to a back-up facility, but declined to say
where. Reporters covering the central bank believed it was in
Nakhon Pathom province, west of Bangkok.
One department that handles debt securities for retail
investors had moved to a branch of Krung Thai Bank Pcl,
it said in the statement.
The central bank said 44 commercial bank branches did not
open on Monday and 79 closed earlier than usual.
Other agencies might soon be casting around for new homes.
Staff were evacuated from the Labour Ministry on Monday and the
gates padlocked by protesters.
"BUSINESS AS USUAL"
Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck occupies a temporary
office in northern Bangkok belonging to the Permanent Secretary
for Defense, where on Monday she convened a security meeting
with ministers and other officials.
Her office could not confirm if the cabinet's weekly Tuesday
meeting would take place.
As part of the "shutdown", demonstrators threatened to cut
off power and water to the homes of senior officials.
Protesters vowed to "give me a lesson," Foreign Minister
Surapong Tovichakchaikul told reporters on Friday. "That's why I
already packed my stuff and moved out of my house already."
His ministry's main building, now housed in a modern office
complex and briefly occupied by protesters in November, is also
deserted. So is its consular department, in a sprawling
government complex in northern Bangkok partially besieged by
The ministry's temporary home at the Queen Sirikit National
Convention Center is also eerily unpeopled due to the
postponement or cancellation of many conferences.
"We're still functioning as usual," says information officer
Sek. "Working from a temporary site over a short period doesn't
really have much of an impact."
But he said a "sustained" protest could cause real problems,
with all meetings with other government agencies already
postponed due to shutdown chaos.
The temporary ministry's main task now is overseeing advance
voting for the Feb. 2 general election, which started on Monday
at Thai embassies and consulates in cities worldwide.
The protesters reject the election, saying Thailand's
corrupt political system must first be reformed to expunge the
influence of Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin, who was deposed
as prime minister by a 2006 military coup.
The opposition Democrat Party is boycotting the election.
About 150,000 Thais living overseas had registered to vote
in advance, roughly the same number as for the last election in
2011, said Sek.
"There is a lot of eagerness on the part of Thai communities
to exercise their voting rights," he said.
(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Orathai Sriring,
Khettiya Jittapong, Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat, Panarat
Thepgumpanat, Pracha Hariraksapitak, Pairat Temphairojana and
Kitiphong Thaichareon; Editing by Robert Birsel)