Thai anti-government protesters march, consumer confidence slumps

BANGKOK Thu Jan 9, 2014 6:37am EST

1 of 9. A woman holds money to donate to protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban as he leads thousands of anti-government demonstrators marching in Bangkok January 9, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Protesters trying to topple Thailand's prime minister marched in Bangkok again on Thursday, testing support for a planned "shutdown" of the capital next week, and a survey showed consumer confidence slumped last month because of the crisis.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has called an election for February 2 but the protesters, aware she would probably win on the back of support in the rural north and northeast, want her to step down and be replaced by an appointed "people's council" to push through electoral reforms.

The protests took off in November when the government tried to force through a political amnesty bill that would have let former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, return from self-exile without serving jail time for corruption.

On Thursday, the protesters marched from their camp at Democracy Monument in the historic quarter, drumming up support for Monday when they plan to blockade main roads and prevent government ministries from functioning.

The turmoil is the latest twist in a conflict pitting Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin, who was ousted as prime minister in a military coup in 2006.

The demonstrations have been mostly peaceful but sporadic violence has flared since late November and protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has shown no sign of compromise.

The survey from the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce showed consumer confidence fell for the ninth month in December and was at its lowest level since the beginning of 2012, when the country was recovering from devastating floods.

"The political situation is still unclear, keeping pressure on consumer confidence. It may not recover until early in the second quarter, at the soonest," Professor of Economics Thanavath Phonvichai told a news conference, adding the economy might only grow 1.0 to 2.0 percent in the first quarter.

Consumer spending helped prop up the economy in 2013 when exports remained weak, so the drop in confidence, along with cancellations by tourists and a delay to huge infrastructure projects, looks likely to hurt growth this year.

A deputy prime minister said on Monday gross domestic product could grow just 3.0 to 3.5 percent this year rather than a projected 4.0 to 5.0 percent if 2 trillion baht ($60.50 billion) in public works was delayed by the political vacuum.

The infrastructure projects are also being contested in the courts by the opposition Democrat Party, which says they would be open to corruption because of the way Yingluck's government was managing them outside the normal budgetary process.

The Supreme Court may rule on Thursday on a separate 350 billion baht flood-management program, already suspended by the courts because of the need for environmental studies.

Other judicial problems are piling up for Yingluck and her Puea Thai Party.

On Tuesday, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) decided to press charges against 308 former lawmakers, mostly from Puea Thai, for trying to change the constitution to make the Senate a fully elected chamber. The Constitutional Court ruled such an amendment illegal in November.

The charges could have implications for the lawmakers' participation in the February 2 election, or whether they could remain in parliament if they won seats.

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court also ruled it had been illegal to try to alter another part of the constitution to make it easier for the government to sign international agreements without seeking approval from parliament.

The NACC could take up the case and, in theory, cabinet members could face a ban from politics.

It is unclear how quickly the case will proceed but Puea Thai officials have expressed concern at the speed with which such matters are being processed, in contrast to cases against opposition figures including protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban that have languished in the courts for years.

COUP RUMOURS

The judiciary has intervened several times in the past to throw out governments allied to Thaksin while rumors of a coup are rife although the army has tried to stay neutral this time.

Thaksin is reviled by a royalist establishment, including top generals, that feels threatened by his rise and a middle class that resents what it sees as its taxes being spent on wasteful populist policies that amount to vote-buying.

One such policy - a rice-buying scheme under which the government buys grain from farmers at way above the market price - has backfired spectacularly because it has priced Thai rice out of the export market it used to dominate.

Some rice farmers have joined the protests because they have not been paid for months and the state bank running the scheme will try to get funds to keep it going by selling a bond next week. A similar sale flopped in November.

The protesters say Thaksin runs Yingluck's government from Dubai and they want to eradicate the political influence of his family by altering electoral arrangements in ways they have not specified, along with other political reforms.

Any delay in electing a new government would have economic consequences because her caretaker cabinet is not supposed to make policy decisions that commit the next administration.

Financial markets have suffered and the baht recently hit a four-year low, but it has now stabilized around 33 per dollar and the stock market has also tried to rally, helped by foreign buying in fairly thin trading.

The main index, which had at one stage this week fallen around 14 percent since the start of November, rose 1.1 percent by 0430 GMT on Thursday. ($1 = 33.0600 baht)

(Additional reporting by Viparat Jantraprap; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Comments (4)
dmitry0 wrote:
Western governments regularly pardon convicts of crimes. So, an amnesty for Thaksin Shinawatra is reasonable. Western governments usually provide free medical care to the poor. So, nearly free medical for the Thai in rural areas is reasonable. Western governments regularly give subsidies to farmers. So, the rice-buying program is reasonable. The Senate in the Japanese government (which is an example of a Western government) is fully elected. So, an amendment making the Thai Senate fully elected is reasonable.

What is not reasonable is attempting to violently overthrow a democratically elected government. What is not reasonable is banning, from public office, parliamentarians who supported an amendment making the Thai Senate fully elected. What is not reasonable is imprisons a Thai citizen who condemns the king and the rest of the royal family. What is not reasonable is a military coup.

If you are a student at a university in Thailand, then you are well educated, and you can, via the Internet, read about how a Western nation like Germany operates. You know that the people destroying the future of Thailand are the royal family, the politicians in the Democrat Party, the thugs who seized control of the government offices, etc.

Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother have worked hard to Westernize Thailand, but Suthep Thaugsuban and his supporters have opposed Westernization. Thaugsuban is threatening to overthrow the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. He violently opposes the elections on February 2. The military is hinting at a coup. The king enthusiastically supports imprisoning critics of the royal family. Thaugsuban and the other members of the Democrat Party, the military, and the monarchy are using the courts and the other organs of the state to destroy the political party (i.e., the Pheu Thai Party) of Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yingluck Shinawatra needs your help — especially the help of the students in Thai universities.

If you are a student at a university in Thailand and if you care about your nation, then you must take up arms (i.e., weapons) and protect the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. You must kill the king and the rest of the royal family and must kill politicians like Suthep Thaugsuban, etc.

reporter, USA, http://theclearsky.blogspot.com

Jan 09, 2014 3:33am EST  --  Report as abuse
Thaiperson wrote:
To dmitry0: I was a university student in Thailand 37 years ago, was born, grew up, and lived in Thailand for 25 years (before I left the country in 1979) and can read and write Thai very well. I am about the same age as the Thai military chief, Prayuth, and feel the same as he feels about the kings of Thailand. I never have any contempt for poor people anywhere, and I love all my Thai friends from my childhood most of whom are not Thaksin’s fans. Thailand and Thai people were peaceful, friendly, and nice and were liked by a lot of U.S. citizens who knew them. I knew almost nothing about the political conflicts in Thailand until about three years ago, and all that I know now is mostly from reading articles on the internet and information from my brother and friends who live in Thailand. It sounds like you for some reasons are very angry at the King and the royal family, and I feel very sad about it. In case you don’t know or understand why the Thai people who love the King feel the way they feel, here is why. Thai kings and the soldiers were the ones who built the Thai nation and kept the people free from being colonized by other countries. Materialism, moral decline, are what caused humans anywhere to become mean and selfish. Good religions’ (moral) teachings tell people not to hurt other people. “Killing” is a definitely “no” if you want to be considered a good person. I assume you are someone under 35 years old and probably born in Thailand. No good and sane teachers or professors will teach their students to get what they want by killing another person. I realize it is too late for that teaching now for the two angry groups in Thailand who seem to go too far to turn back in their problems. I just want to say here that I understand the anger of the poor people but also want to say that in fact the kings and the royal family do have the right to their possessions. Thaksin had good intention for poor Thais but lacks good diplomatic skills. He should have compromised instead of trying to turn Thailand’s system into a new land of westernization in his own time frame with no regard to how the other people in the country felt. The left and right wing parties in the U.S. government disagree on almost every single issue but what kept them from destroying the country the past many years was the fact that they compromised. It is harder to get the rich people to compromise because rich people don’t want anyone to tell them what to do. I don’t know where you went to schools and what your philosophy or moral ethics are but killing should not be your solution. If I had the power, which I don’t, to decide what should happen in Thailand this month I would make Suthep and Yingluck compromise to prevent any further tragedy and death. Democracy is making sense and fair for the U.S. and other countries but not for Thailand and the non poor Thais at the moment because it means Yingluck’s group will always have their ways. Thai government should have social programs for the needy but the anti Thaksin group should have their fair share in the country’s financial decisions. The rich in the U.S. at present don’t want any social programs for poor people to exist at all, so good luck to my poor Thais. Anyway, my main point is trashing the monarchy in Thailand is not a smart move. It was what got Thaksin to where he is right now, and anyone who thinks of him/herself as being a Thai should not forget the works of the kings in the past. By the way, Cuba is one of the nice countries for communists. The westernized Thailand is too violent and should step back to the peace loving style of the good Thai culture. By the way I am a Christian who understands Buddhism very well because I was Buddhist until I was twenty years old.

Jan 10, 2014 2:42am EST  --  Report as abuse
Thaiperson wrote:
dmitry0, I reread your comment and feel that I am probably wrong about you being born in Thailand or being a Thai. And by any chance, if you are, you are a very bad Thai. Real Thais, good and moral Thais do not encourage violence or immorality of any sorts. I am well aware of the poverty problem in Thailand and have empathy for them. If you are not a Thai, which I don’t think you are, you won’t understand a lot of things about the good parts of Thai culture. If you yourself care about the Thais in Thailand at all, you will not want to see any more of them get hurt or lose their lives. I don’t claim to have a solution for the two groups that are at the point of using violence to get what they want. But to read about anyone encouraging one side to kill the other side especially the King and the royal family is just so hopeless. Thai people today, both rich and poor, have been sufficiently corrupted by the material wealth, self gratification, and greed, and lack of empathy for those who think differently from them or have less or more than them. Your post and suggestion to the university students in Thailand to use violence and murder as their solution to poor people’s life problems is the last thing Thai people need right now.

Jan 10, 2014 5:35am EST  --  Report as abuse
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