BANGKOK Feb 7 Bangkok's middle classes have
been at the heart of a three-month protest movement to topple
Thailand's government, but as the strife drags on and the
economy wilts the capital's business owners are starting to feel
While the most committed say they are prepared to swallow
the losses for as long as it takes, others say it is time for
the protests to stop. No one is willing to bet on negotiations
to end the political stalemate any time soon.
"I just want these protests to end," said Pornthep Chaisri,
manager of Indie's Kitchen restaurant in the Silom business
district near one big protest camp, which has seen customer
numbers fall by around 80 percent.
"It's not good for business, or for the safety of those of
us working in this zone. Some of my employees have to walk 5 km
to get to work because buses can't get in here."
The protesters want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to
step down and an unelected "people's council" to push through
unspecified political reforms. To achieve that they have
blockaded big intersections in the capital and forced ministries
and state agencies to close.
Yingluck called a snap election but voting was disrupted on
Feb. 2 and she looks likely to head a caretaker administration
for many weeks yet, unable to take policy decisions and needing
permission from the Election Commission for much spending.
"We're trying to find a channel for dialogue but we're not
talking to the protesters or the government," said Payungsak
Chartsutthipol, head of the Federation of Thai Industries, one
of several business groups that have tried to mediate.
He said his organisation might appeal directly to the
Election Commission to get certain budgets approved.
"The impact on business is not just in the protest areas
now. It has spread much further. Merchants are being affected,
and people can't sell ... Whether it's hotels or small vendors,
everyone is affected," Payungsak said.
A university survey released on Thursday showed consumer
confidence, which reflects views on the economy, jobs and future
income, fell to a 26-month low in January.
Thailand's central bank slashed its growth forecast for this
year to 3 percent last month and warned it could be lower as the
unrest, which began in November, had affected consumption and
In those areas where traffic has been blocked since a
"shutdown" began on Jan. 13, shops and restaurants have lost
from 50 to 80 percent of their business.
Chai Srivikorn, president of the Ratchaprasong Square Trade
Association, home to upmarket malls and hotels, said daily
retail sales in the area had fallen by 60 percent and hotel
occupancy had dropped to 20 percent from 85-90 percent.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is popular in Silom,
drawing cheering workers from their offices whenever his
supporters march through, and some local business people back
"If my business fails and the government falls, too, then
I'm willing to make the sacrifice," said the owner of a tea shop
in the posh Dusit Thani hotel right opposite the protest camp,
declining to be named. His business was empty and he was
enjoying a smoke in the cigar shop next door.
Customers had dropped by almost three-quarters, but he
shrugged off the losses. "It's not such a huge impact that it
would affect my business so much. This is just a hobby," he
said, waving his hand through the air dismissively.
In a nearby women's clothing boutique, where sales have
dropped by a half, Tanawan Khontanarak fumed at such
"Those people are rich, but we're not rich. If my store is
ruined, then I'll die - not just me, my entire family," she said
bitterly, pointing towards the protest stage.
"My suppliers tell me the same thing: 'Be patient.' But if I
don't have the money to pay them, will they be so patient with
me? I don't think so. They say, 'When the government quits,
things will be better,' but I don't think they will be."
(Additional reporting by Khettiya Jittapong and Amy Sawitta
Lefevre; Editing by Alan Raybould and Alex Richardson)