World News

SNAP ANALYSIS-Thai PM's options narrow after summit fiasco

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s decision to declare a state of emergency around a cancelled Asian summit has narrowed his options in dealing with anti-government protesters and raises questions about whether he has the backing of the military.

Political developments in the next 48 hours could determine the fate of his four-month-old coalition government.

Here are some possible consequences:

* The degree of enforcement by security forces of the emergency will determine Abhisit’s largely untested leadership, and whether he can keep the emboldened, largely rural supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra under control.

* Abhisit has been considerably weakened by his failure to stop the demonstrators getting anywhere near the summit, which will be interpreted as a sign of indecisiveness even if the aim was to avoid bloodshed.

* Abhisit’s gamble on invoking an emergency risks fomenting widespread civil strife with unpredictable consequences if the military fails to stand firmly behind him.

* Bloodshed following any crackdown on Thaksin’s red-shirted supporters will put pressure on Abhisit to step down and call a snap election, or let Thailand’s fractious parliament choose a successor.

* Bloodshed could even lead to the military stepping in and mounting another coup, after the one in 2006 that ousted Thaksin, although the army has made it clear repeatedly during months of unrest that it did not want to get involved in politics again.

* Any snap election raises prospects of political parties backing Thaksin emerging winners, which would pave the way for the return of the former leader, who lives in exile after fleeing to escape a two-year jail term for abuse of power. This would like trigger a fresh series of mass protests.

* Abhisit’s mistake in underestimating the protesters weakens his political standing and threatens his leadership of the Democrat Party.

* The demonstration by the “red shirts” had been largely peaceful until the arrival on the scene of a mysterious group of blue-shirted, pro-government protesters, their faces covered and armed with clubs and slingshots, which they used. Abhisit will have to address rumours that these were military personnel, used by the authorities to do their dirty work while the police and troops followed orders not to use violence.

Editing by Alan Raybould