Sunday, January 5, 2014

Thailand: Update--Protesters Plan to Shut Down Bangkok, Sabotage February 2nd Election

According to ReutersThailand is heading for a political showdown as protesters plan to shut down Bangkok next week to sabotage an election while the government's supporters have vowed to stage massive counter-rallies in the country's provinces.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 46, is facing swelling opposition in Bangkok ahead of the February 2 election in which her supporters in the rural north and northeast are expected to return her to power, providing the vote goes forward.
Thousands of demonstrators marched through Bangkok on Sunday (January 5) as a prelude to rallies starting on January 13, when they plan to block government offices and occupy key intersections for days in a bid to force Yingluck out and disrupt the election.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a puppet of her self-exiled brother and former PM, Thaksin Shinawatra, 64. They want an appointed "people's council" to oversee a vague reform platform, which includes electoral changes and decentralizing power over a 12-month period before any election.
Thai markets are expected to face pressure this week over the growing uncertainty. The baht slid on Friday (January 3) to its lowest against the dollar since February 2010. The benchmark stock index has lost 15% since early November, when the latest crisis began.
COMMENT: As a matter of interest the protesters have assured residents and foreigners alike that they will not shut down or interrupt the operations of airports or all modes of transportation.

Yingluck is refusing to postpone the poll, which she says would be unconstitutional. Any election delay could heighten the uncertainty and make it harder for her caretaker government to function.
Yingluck enjoyed two smooth years in power until November 2013, when her Puea Thai Party tried to force through an unpopular amnesty bill that would have nullified a 2008 graft conviction against Thaksin and allowed him to return a free man. Subsequently, protests erupted and grew throughout the capital.
The battle, an outbreak of turmoil stretching back eight years, broadly pits Bangkok's middle classes, southerners and an old-money oligarchy of royalists, conservatives and generals threatened by Thaksin's rise, against his mostly rural supporters and tycoons who prospered under his rule.
Thailand's military has launched or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of fragile democracy, including the overthrow of Thaksin as PM in 2006.
Unfortunately, the powerful Thai military is not rallying behind Yingluck. Its top general, Prayuth Chan-ocha, last month said "the door was neither open nor closed" when asked about intervention to defuse the crisis.
The National Counter Corruption Commission will also decide on Tuesday (January 7) whether to press charges against 381 former lawmakers for trying to change the constitution to transform the Senate from a semi-appointed to a fully elected chamber, which the Constitutional Court in November ruled was unlawful.
The impasse is also a risk for the economy, Southeast Asia's second-largest, which is struggling with weak exports and consumer spending. Tourism, worth 9% of the economy, is suffering from the turmoil and plans for $65 billion in infrastructure spending intended to offset export losses will now be delayed until the end of the year.
Yingluck's supporters, known as the "red shirts", plan rallies in dozens of provinces to run simultaneously with the Bangkok blockade by the protesters. The "red shirts" have threatened pandemonium if the election is derailed or if the military intervenes.
Demonstrations have been mostly peaceful so far, although face-offs between riot police and anti-government protesters turned ugly last month, with scores hospitalized and three people shot and killed by gunmen rumored to support the protesters.
At this point, I urge all foreigners to leave Thailand if they're able to do so, from any airport that offers international options.
Those who cannot leave the country, should depart the capital at the earliest opportunity in order to avoid day-to-day commerce coming to a stand-still next week.
Those who are not able to leave the country should travel north to Chiangmai or south to such destinations as Hua Hin, Phuket or other southern provinces.
On the side of caution, I urge both Thai residents and foreigners alike to avoid the capital as potentially a major confrontation between protesters and the government could easily occur with serious levels of violence a real possibility.
If the military does step in, it is very likely that it will NOT be in support of Yingluck, which could produce disruptions and/or violence not seen in many years.

Finally, all those remaining in Thailand should stock up on water and non-perishable food supplies and gasoline (if it can be safely stored) in the event commerce is brought to a halt in Bangkok.