Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thailand: Update--Thai Anti-Corruption Agency to Bring Charges of Negligence Against PM on February 27

According to Reuters, Thailand's anti-corruption agency is to bring charges of negligence against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Thursday (February 27) as anti-government protesters demand her ouster in a violence-rich standoff that seems to  be slipping out of control.
Intermittent bursts of gunfire and grenade blasts have become the norm at night in a conflict that has taken a heavy toll on tourism in the capital of Bangkok, famous for its golden temples and unbridled sex.
Guitarist Eric Clapton has pulled out of Bangkok concert scheduled for Sunday (March 2) as a result of the deteriorating threat environment. 
Roughly 200 Yingluck supporters, referred to as "Red Shirts," have become more aggressive in recent days by padlocking the gates of the National Anti-Corruption Commission and demanding that all members of the Commission quit, setting the stage for a major confrontation. 
COMMENT: At the moment, PM Yingluck Shinawatra, 46, was in the northern city of Chiang Mai, her family's home town, on Wednesday (February 26) and reportedly is not  planning to appear at the proceedings. 
The charges against the PM relate to a disastrous rice subsidy scheme that paid farmers above the market price, which has been disastrous for the national budget, adding to the government's woes as unpaid rural workers demand their subsidies.
The protesters, whose disruption of a general election this month left Thailand in paralysis, want to topple Yingluck and erase the influence of her brother, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, seen by many as the real power in the country.
The protests have been marked by occasional small bomb blasts and gunfire in which 21 people have been killed and more than 700 wounded since the crisis began in November 2013.
The crisis pits the mainly middle-class and southern anti-government demonstrators, who are backed by the royalist establishment, against the largely rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin in the north and northeast.
The standoff also raises the question of whether the powerful military will step in, as they have many times in the past, most recently in 2006 to remove Thaksin, although the army chief has ruled out intervention at this time, albeit a bit late in the game.

Having observed Thai politics since the 1970s and 1980s, when I served in Bangkok with the US Department of State and in my periodic visits business visits back to the "Land of Smiles" since then, I foresee that  with continuing and escalating violence, Thailand is not far from the breaking point. 

Unfortunately, several opposing factions are in play at the moment: The "Red Shirts," who seem to be turning up the heat on behalf of the Prime Minister; the protesters who vary in six-digit numbers, but who have effectively generated street violence in the capital and neutralized Bangkok from its normalcy; the powerful military which after four months has failed to step in; Yingluck and Thaksin, both of whom are as corrupt as the other; and the protesters who are advocating a people's council, which is totally unconstitutional.

The end result is that the Thai economy, dependent heavily on tourism and regional trade, is on the verge of collapse with no one in authority exercising leadership, given the fact that the King is too ill to be an engaging or stabilizing force, as he has been in the past.

The other factor worth noting is that none of the multiple current players seem to be inclined toward any form of negotiation, compromise or consensus, which seems to be a losing proposition for the middle-class in the capital versus the rural farmers who have Thaksin's support with promised subsides, the latter of which are beginning to unravel due to the charges against the PM.

Regardless of where loyalties stand, polarization may have reached critical mass to the point that no one is going to emerge as a winner in this House of Cards. 

The losers, of course, are not the power players of the week, but rather  the Thai people who incorrectly chose bad leaders more concerned with protecting their personal "rice bowls" than with adhering to the rule of law and equity for all citizens.