Weakened by five months of unrest, Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra is expected to defend herself before an anti-corruption
commission by March 31, and a decision to seek her impeachment could
come soon after that, with the Senate expected to take up the matter
As the crisis deepens, there is a growing risk that the "red shirt"
supporters of Yingluk and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra
could confront their opponents in the streets, plunging Thailand
into a fresh round of political violence.
Twenty-three people have been killed in the unrest since November,
and the economy suffered and tourists stayed away as protesters shut
government offices and at times blocked major thoroughfares in
Bangkok to try to force Yingluck out.
Consumer confidence is at a 12-year low, prompting the central bank
on Friday to cut its economic growth forecast for this year to 2.7
percent from 3 percent.
Confident that her Puea Thai Party would win, Yingluck had called an
election on February 2 in a bid to defuse anti-government protests,
and since then has headed a caretaker government with limited
The Constitutional Court judges ruled in a 6 to 3 vote on Friday
that the election was unconstitutional because voting failed to take
place on the same day around the country.
Anti-government protesters had stopped voting in about a fifth of
constituencies, and in 28 of them voting was not possible at all
because candidates were unable to register.
The agitation was the latest chapter in an eight-year crisis that
pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against
supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by
the army in 2006 and lives in exile to avoid a jail term for graft.
Encouraged by the dwindling number of protesters in recent weeks and
relative calm on the streets, the government lifted a state of
emergency on Wednesday.
But the focus has shifted to the courts, in particular to the
prospect of Yingluck being impeached over a rice scheme that has
gone badly wrong, with hundreds of thousands of farmers not getting
paid for grain sold to the state since October.
"Independent agencies are being quite obvious that they want to
remove her and her entire cabinet to create a power vacuum, claim
that elections can't be held and then nominate a prime minister of
their choice," said Kan Yuenyong, an analyst at the Siam
Intelligence Unit, referring to the courts and the anti-corruption
"If they run with this plan, then the government's supporters will
fight back and the next half of the year will be much worse than
what we saw in the first half," he said.
More upheaval would scupper chances of the recovery in private
spending and therefore in the economy in the second half of the
year, that Bank of Thailand Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul had
tentatively forecast in a speech on Thursday.
The central bank's new forecast of 2.7 percent growth this year
compares with the 4.8 percent it was expecting last October, just
before the political crisis flared up.
"Tourism should improve after the lifting of the state of emergency
and that will also help support growth in the second half," said
Assistant Governor Paiboon Kittisrikangwan.
But the outlook is highly uncertain.
"We would not be surprised to see further downgrades to the Bank of
Thailand's growth assessment given persistent weakness in domestic
activity amidst lingering political uncertainty," said Benjamin
Shatil, an economist at JP Morgan in Singapore.
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Ominously, Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters are beginning to sound
more militant under new hardline leaders, raising the prospect of
more violence if Yingluck is forced out by the courts, the
anti-corruption commission or by other means.
The commission could recommend her impeachment in coming days. She
could then be removed from office by the upper house Senate, which
is likely to have an anti-Thaksin majority after an election for
half its members on March 30.
Some analysts say it will fall to the Senate to then appoint a
"neutral" prime minister, probably the type of establishment figure
the protesters have been demanding all along.
It is unclear when a new election will take place. Supachai
Somcharoen, chairman of the Election Commission, told reporters it
would take at least 3 months to organize a new election, and would
depend on the political situation.
Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, an Election Commission member, offered two
options: "The commission could discuss with the government about
issuing a new royal decree for a new date or we could ask the heads
of all political parties to decide together when best to set the new
election date," he told reporters.
A spokesman for the opposition Democrat Party has been quoted as
saying it would boycott any vote, as in February, but on Friday he
said it might be prepared to take part.
"We're ready to join a new election but it depends on the government
and whether the political situation is stable enough to hold a new
vote," Chavanond Intarakomalyasut told Reuters.
The protesters want electoral changes pushed through before any
vote, seeking to reduce the influence of Thaksin. Parties led by or
allied to him have won every election since 2001.
Prior to the Constitutional Court ruling, protest leader Suthep
Thaugsuban, who was a deputy prime minister under the previous
Democrat-led government, told his supporters in a speech on Thursday
there would be no compromise.
"If the court rules the election void, don't even dream that there
will be another election. If a new election date is declared, then
we'll take care of every province and the election won't be
successful again," he said.
Yingluck declined comment but her Puea Thai Party lamented the
verdict. "Today, Thais have lost an opportunity to move on towards
completing the election and solving this crisis," party spokesman
Prompong Nopparit told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Orathai Sriring and Aukkarapon Niyomyat;
writing by Alan Raybould and Amy Sawitta Lefevre; editing by Simon
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