SCENARIOS – Thailand’s political crisis: how it might play out

Reuters India

Wed Oct 8, 2008 3:53pm IST
By Darren Schuettler
 

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BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai protesters vowed to intensify their campaign against the government on Wednesday, a day after two people died and more than 400 were injured in the worst street violence in 16 years.

The Southeast Asian nation has been locked in crisis since the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) began street protests in May, accusing the government of being a puppet of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Following are some scenarios of what might happen next, although none are likely to heal the fundamental rift between the rural and urban poor who support Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup, and the Bangkok middle classes who despise him.

CRISIS DRAGS ON, SPORADIC VIOLENCE

The political crisis rumbles on for months, with sporadic outbreaks of street violence as the PAD seeks to deal a knock-out blow to the government, possibly by triggering a reaction from the military.

The PAD may try to use Tuesday’s violence to lobby unionised workers at state utilities to begin rolling strike action, disrupting services and piling pressure on the government.

“They are just going to keep poking and prodding, hoping for some kind of breakthrough over the next weeks or months,” one foreign stock analyst said of the PAD.

Many analysts believe new Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat’s days are numbered, although the coalition government would most likely name another premier and try to ride out the PAD attacks.

 

MILITARY LAUNCHES A COUP

Army chief Anupong Paochinda has denied persistent coup rumours, insisting the unarmed troops he ordered into the streets of Bangkok on Tuesday were to help police maintain order.

Anupong has stressed many times that a coup would resolve none of the underlying political problems, which have worsened since the military ousted Thaksin two years ago.

Nevertheless, more serious bloodshed on the streets of Bangkok makes military intervention “in the interest of national unity” that much more likely.

 

GOVERNMENT ORDERS POLICE TO SMASH PROTESTS

Tuesday’s move against PAD protesters barricaded outside parliament was the toughest response yet by police to the street campaign. The clashes appalled many Thais and prompted a deputy prime minister to take responsibility and quit.

It is unlikely the government would again order security forces to go in hard against the PAD, particularly to evict them from the Government House compound they have occupied since late August.

Any storming of the protest zone, where middle-aged women sit side-by-side with youths armed with stakes, golf clubs and iron bars, would probably cause significant casualties, triggering widespread public revulsion.

COURTS DISBAND RULING PARTY

– The Election Commission has already found PPP guilty of vote buying. If the Supreme Court agrees, it will be disbanded.

Top PPP figures would be barred from politics, but most MPs would simply switch to Puea Thai (For Thais), a “shell” party already lined up for just such an eventuality.

As long as the coalition holds together, it would not trigger another election. Even if there was, Puea Thai would be likely to win due to lingering rural support for Thaksin.

No date has been set for the ruling, but some analysts expect it could come in early 2009.

 

PAD CAMPAIGN FIZZLES OUT

Nobody knows who is really backing the PAD, which admits to needing 1 million baht ($29,000) a day to keep going, but most analysts believe they have deep pockets and are well connected.

PAD speakers have vowed repeatedly to push on until all Thaksin elements are purged from the political system. But the movement is facing growing opposition to its call for “new politics”, which critics say is undemocratic by calling for a proportion of appointed members of parliament.

KING INTERVENES

– Regarded as semi-divine by many Thais, the King carries huge informal political clout and in six decades on the throne has intervened in several disputes, favouring variously elected or military administrations.

Normally, the 80-year-old has stepped in only after major bloodshed. He has not yet reacted to Tuesday’s violence.

However, his wife, Queen Sirikit, has donated 300,000 baht to help treat the injured. PAD leaders have embraced it as a expression of support for their cause.

“The monarchy remains the most unpredictable variable, and its behaviour could change expectations about this crisis,” Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said.

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