BANGKOK - Protesters waging a surreal political fight to oust Thailand's elected prime minister are trying to establish what amounts to a parallel government - one complete with "volunteer peacekeepers" to replace the police, a foreign policy of their own, and a central committee that has already begun issuing audacious orders.
Among the most brazen Tuesday: a demand that caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra be prosecuted for "insurrection," and another calling on the public to "monitor" her family's movements.
Leading academics have slammed the scheme as undemocratic and unconstitutional. Critics have called its leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, delusional. But the ex-lawmaker's bid to seize power could become reality if the military or the judiciary intervenes, as they have in the past. Either way, analysts say, this Southeast Asian nation is at a dangerous new crossroads that could drag on and end with more bloodshed.
"This is a combustible situation. We cannot have two governments in Bangkok running Thailand," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn's Institute of Security and International Studies. "Something will have to give."
Yingluck is desperate to end weeks of political unrest that has killed five people and wounded nearly 300 more. On Monday, she dissolved the lower house of Parliament and called for elections, now set for Feb. 2. But neither move defused the crisis, and a 150,000-strong crowd pressed on with a massive march.
Yingluck said Tuesday that she would not resign despite a nighttime deadline issued by Suthep. But there was no hiding the nation's precarious state. Asked how she was holding up, tears welled in Yingluck's eyes: "I have retreated as far as I can."
The protesters accuse Yingluck of serving as a proxy for her billionaire brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction but still wields immense influence in the country.