BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters have been occupying Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s official compound since August 26, vowing to remain until he and his elected government fall.
Samak has repeatedly said he will not bow to the demands of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the protest group that he dismisses as an illegal mob.
Following are some scenarios for what might happen next, although none of the outcomes is likely to heal the fundamental rift in Thai society between the rural and urban poor who support Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup, and the Bangkok middle classes who despise him.
The stock market has fallen about 23 percent since the street protests began in May and wobbled at times last week when violence spiked, although overseas influences such as the health of the U.S. export market have also been factors.
Thailand’s currency, the baht hit a nine-month low against the dollar last week and continuing uncertainty is likely to hold it down.
- Samak dissolves parliament to call a snap election in the hope it will take the wind out of the PAD’s sails.
But, with Samak’s People Power Party, a replacement for Thaksin’s disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, almost certain to win and lead the next government, the PAD would be unlikely to give up its campaign.
Parliament will debate and probably pass a new national budget next week, replenishing government coffers for election goodies.
- Samak declares a state of emergency to enlist the help of the military in clearing the tens of thousands of protesters from the seat of government.
Still haunted by a public backlash at their bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1992, it is far from certain that the military would follow orders.
- With the second anniversary of the coup against Thaksin looming on September 19, army chief Anupong Paochinda has stressed that another putsch would resolve none of Thailand’s underlying political problems.
However, if tensions escalate and people get hurt or killed, the army may feel justified in intervening, citing the need for national reconciliation, and forcing the government from power.
It is far from clear what sort of government would emerge.
- Given his reputation as an instigator of a bloody crackdown on left-wing students in 1976, Samak has so far shown considerable restraint. Many wonder how long this can last.
Scores of deaths could result if riot police were sent in to storm the protest zone, where middle-aged women sit side-by-side with youths armed with stakes, golf clubs and iron bars.
Inevitable public revulsion at bloodshed would probably trigger Samak’s downfall.
- Samak caves in and steps down along with his cabinet. It would then be up to the opposition Democrat Party to cobble together a coalition government. If it fails, elections would ensue.
- Nobody knows who is really backing the PAD, but most analysts suspect they have deep pockets and are well connected. With Samak on the back foot, they are unlikely to give up now.
- Regarded as semi-divine by many Thais, King Bhumibol Adulyadej carries huge informal political clout, and in six decades on the throne he has intervened in several disputes, favoring variously elected or military administrations.
Earlier this month the 80-year-old monarch delivered thinly veiled criticism of government economic policy and its conduct in a spat with the Bank of Thailand over how to tackle inflation.
So any intervention by the King would be unlikely to favor the government, even though it would be couched in nuanced terms espousing the need for national harmony and stability.
Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and David Fox