| BANGKOK, March 23
BANGKOK, March 23 Supporters of Thai Prime
Minister Yingluck Shinawatra say they will take to the streets
as moves to impeach her gather pace, raising the spectre of
confrontation with protesters who helped scupper a February
election she had been expected to win.
The Constitutional Court annulled the election on Friday and
the chairman of the Election Commission said it would be months
before a new vote could be held, leaving Yingluck at the head of
an enfeebled caretaker government with limited powers.
The crisis is the latest chapter in an eight-year battle
between Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment
against supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra, her
brother, who was ousted as premier by the army in 2006. He lives
in Dubai to avoid a jail term for abuse of power.
After months of restraint, Thaksin's "red shirts" supporters
are making militant noises under hardline new
"On April 5, red brothers and sisters, pack your belongings
and be ready for a major assembly. The destination may be
Bangkok or other places, it will be announced later," Jatuporn
Prompan, chairman of the "red-shirts" United Front for Democracy
Against Dictatorship, told supporters late on Saturday.
Jatuporn helped organise a "red-shirts" uprising against a
previous government that ended in a bloody military crackdown in
May 2010. More than 90 people were killed during the protests in
central Bangkok. Jatuporn still faces terrorism charges related
to the violence in 2010.
In the latest political crisis, 23 people have died and more
than 700 have been wounded since November.
Speaking to an estimated 10,000 people in Pattaya southeast
of Bangkok, another leader, Nisit Sintuprai, sent a warning to
Suthep Thaugsuban, the former oppposition politician who has led
the protests against Yingluck since November.
"One big reason why we are on the move again is to tell
Suthep that the majority in this country want democracy, want
government through elections. We cannot accept a prime minister
nominated by your people," he said.
Suthep's People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) wants
unspecified electoral changes before any election, aiming to
dilute the influence of Thaksin and his massive support among
the rural poor in the north and northeast.
Parties led by or allied to Thaksin have won every election
since 2001 and Yingluck's Puea Thai Party is widely expected to
win any election held under current arrangements.
IMPEACHMENT LOOMS FOR PM YINGLUCK
Suthep's supporters disrupted the election on Feb. 2 and
prevented voting in 28 constituencies. The Constitutional Court
ruled on Friday that made the ballot illegal because voting is
supposed to be held across the country on the same day.
The Election Commission will meet on Monday to decide how to
proceed, but it had been reluctant to hold the February election
because of the political climate and may push for talks between
the opposing sides before setting a new polling date.
It is far from clear that Yingluck's caretaker government
can struggle on much longer. The most immediate threat is her
possible impeachment for alleged dereliction of duty over a
disastrous rice-buying scheme that has run up huge losses.
This scheme bolstered Yingluck's support in a 2011 election
but thousands of farmers, normally solid supporters of Thaksin,
have demonstrated in Bangkok this year because they have not
been paid for their rice.
Yingluck has to defend herself before an anti-corruption
commission by March 31 and a decision to impeach her could come
soon after that. 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 of 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 anti-government protesters have been demanding.
"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
"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.
VIOLENCE DAMAGES ECONOMY
Encouraged by the dwindling number of protesters and
relative calm on the streets, the government lifted a state of
emergency on March 19.
But three grenades exploded around midnight on Thursday near
the home of a Constitutional Court judge ahead of the election
ruling and police said a car bomb went off early on Saturday
near a PDRC camp in north Bangkok and near a government
administrative complex protesters have disrupted for weeks.
Explosive devices went off in three incidents late on Friday
in Chiang Mai province, a Thaksin stronghold, and one person was
seriously injured, police said. One target was Boon Rawd
Brewery, which makes Singha beer. A member of the family that
owns it has been prominent in PDRC rallies.
Consumer confidence is at a 12-year low, prompting the
central bank on Friday to cut its economic growth forecast for
2014 to 2.7 percent from 3 percent. In October last year, just
before the protests flared up, it had forecast 4.8 percent.
The stock market barely moved after Friday's court decision.
Some stock analysts have taken the scrapping of the election as
a positive move, believing it will spur negotiations between the
Rating agency Standard and Poor's took a different view.
"We believe the Thai court's decision dims prospects for any
near-term resolution of Thailand's political split and is in
line with our expectations of protracted and possibly increasing
political risks," Agost Benard, its associate director of
sovereign ratings, said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Viparat
Jantraprap; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Michael Perry)