November 14, 2008 / 9:19 AM / 11 years ago

SCENARIOS: What's in store for politically riven Thailand?

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s protracted political crisis has gone into a lull ahead of the cremation of the king’s elder sister this weekend and the revered monarch’s birthday on December 5.

However, the basic conflict remains between the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has occupied the prime minister’s compound since August, and the government, which the PAD says is the puppet of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Operating out of temporary offices in an old airport, the elected administration has all but given up on policy-making, intensifying investors’ concerns about the export-dependent economy’s ability to cope with global recession.

Here are some broad scenarios for what may happen next. None is likely to heal the fundamental rift between the rural and urban poor who support Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup, and the Bangkok middle and upper classes who despise him.

CRISIS DRAGS ON, SPORADIC VIOLENCE

- The crisis is likely to rumble on for months, with outbreaks of street violence as the PAD, anti-PAD groups and the police trade ritual, and sometimes real, punches.

Small grenades will be thrown and people will occasionally be shot — there is some form of violence almost every day — but the bloodshed will not be enough to trigger intervention either by the military or King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

COURTS DISBAND RULING PARTY

- The Election Commission has already found the ruling People Power Party (PPP) guilty of vote buying and, if the Supreme Court agrees, it will be disbanded.

A decision is expected in December or January, and there is little doubt it will be against the PPP.

Top figures, such as Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat — Thaksin’s brother-in-law — will be barred from politics, but it will not mean the end of the road for the pro-Thaksin forces.

Most MPs will simply switch to Puea Thai (For Thais), a “shell” party lined up for such an eventuality, and as long as the ruling coalition holds together, it will stay in power.

Even if there was an election, Puea Thai would be likely to win due to the solid rural support for Thaksin.

Emotions will run high as the ruling nears.

PAD CAMPAIGN FIZZLES OUT

Opinion polls show waning public support for the PAD campaign, which has been snarling up traffic in central Bangkok for six months, and the number of people at its Government House sit-in is dwindling.

However, it is inconceivable that it will simply wither and die — especially as it now has the explicit backing of Queen Sirikit, who attended the funeral of a 28-year-old female PAD supporter killed in clashes with police last month.

MILITARY LAUNCHES A COUP

It is never wise to rule out a coup in a country that has had, on average, one successful or attempted putsch every four years since the overthrow of absolute monarchy 76 years ago.

Army chief Anupong Paochinda has put public pressure on Somchai to stand down, but he has also consistently said the army would not take power as it is powerless to heal Thailand’s basic political rift.

KING INTERVENES

- Regarded as semi-divine by many Thais, the King carries huge informal political clout and in six decades on the throne has intervened in several disputes, favouring at various times both elected and military administrations.

However, the 80-year-old has stepped in previously only after major bloodshed, and his advancing years and deteriorating health raise doubts about his ability to calm any new outburst of violence.

Editing by Alan Raybould and Jeremy Laurence

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