Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra faces 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 — if the vote can go ahead.
Thousands of demonstrators marched through Bangkok on Sunday 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 out Yingluck and scuttle the poll.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a puppet of her self-exiled
brother and former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, a man they say is a
corrupt crony capitalist who used taxpayers' money to buy his
electoral support with populist giveaways.
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.
Commerce Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan said on Monday 2014
growth could be 3.0 percent to 3.5 percent if the protests
continued, mainly due to a delay to $65 billion worth of
infrastructure spending, which the government had hoped would offset
sagging exports worth about 60 percent of the economy.
The government had forecast GDP growth of 4.0 percent to 5.0 percent
this year. On December 26 the finance ministry forecast 3.5 percent
if the political deadlock continued.
Thai markets are expected to face pressure over the growing
uncertainty. The baht hit another four-year low against the dollar
on Monday, and the benchmark stock index fell to its lowest since
August 2012 during early trade.
It closed up 0.5 percent, helped by late buying in some battered
big-caps. The index has lost 15 percent since early November, when
the latest crisis began.
Yingluck, 46, 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
On Monday, she urged protesters to consider the economy.
"I ask protesters not to close government offices on January 13,"
she told reporters. "Many countries have indicated they are worried
that if the protests do not end, Thailand will be affected in many
ways, particularly in terms of its economy."
Yingluck enjoyed two smooth years in power until November, when her
Puea Thai Party miscalculated by trying 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. It
caused outrage and protests erupted.
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.
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Despite her determination to press ahead, Yingluck's position
becomes more precarious the longer the protests drag on, with
intervention by the judiciary or the military a possibility to break
Thailand's military has launched or attempted 18 coups in 81 years
of fragile democracy, including the overthrow of Thaksin in 2006,
but has also intervened in politics behind the scenes.
The military isn't 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, a break
from his rejection of coup suggestions.
The National Counter Corruption Commission may also decide on
Tuesday 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.
It is unclear what the fallout would be from any subsequent ruling
against the former legislators.
It has been a tough year-end period for Yingluck, who has avoided
Bangkok for much of it, choosing instead to tour her Puea Thai
Party's north and northeast strongholds.
Her "red shirts" supporters plan rallies in dozens of provinces to
run simultaneously with the Bangkok blockade by their rivals. The
red shirts have threatened pandemonium if the election is derailed
or if the military intervenes.
Protests have been mostly peaceful, though face-offs between riot
police and anti-government protesters turned ugly last month, with
scores hospitalized and three people shot dead by mystery gunmen.
Yingluck said she was worried about violence, but would only declare
a state of emergency as a last resort.
"The use of the emergency decree is the very last option we will
consider," she said. "The government does not want to resort to
violence... we will have to use the expertise of our soldiers and
police to look after the current situation."
(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak;
editing by Clarence
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