Monday, 22nd September 2014

What next for crisis-gripped Thailand?


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A day after a court removed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from power, Thailand was mired in a political crisis on Thursday as an anti-graft body ruled that she should face impeachment proceedings.
 
Here are three possible steps ahead -- from an unlikely deal between Thailand's bitterly divided political camps, to a military coup.
 
Scenario 1: Will Yingluck be banned from politics?
 
Yingluck, deposed on Wednesday by the Constitutional Court, could theoretically return as prime minister if her Puea Thai party won elections slated for July 20.
 
But a huge question mark looms over this after a Thai anti-graft panel ruled Thursday that she should face impeachment proceedings in the upper house of parliament -- a move that could see her banned from politics for five years.
 
That would deal a heavy blow to her and her billionaire family but would not necessarily see the ruling Puea Thai party shed voters if new polls are successfully held.
 
To Puea Thai's relief, the graft panel said it would not extend its probe to the rest of the caretaker cabinet -- a move that would have sent the kingdom spinning into an even deeper crisis.
 
The battered administration is hoping to hold out for new elections. Parties led by or aligned to Thaksin -- Yingluck's billionaire elder brother -- have won every poll since 2001.
 
Scenario 2: Could there be a military coup?
            
Anti-government protesters have vowed massive action on Friday, while Yingluck's "Red Shirt" supporters plan a major rally in Bangkok on Saturday.
            
In the event of violent clashes on the streets or widespread action by the Reds in their rural strongholds, the army could step in.
            
This would be nothing out of the ordinary for a nation that has had 18 successful or attempted coups since 1932.
            
Thailand's army has declined to make such a move during the last six months of chaotic protests, even as political violence has at times threatened to spiral out off control.
            
But powerful army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has declined to rule out a coup, in December saying "anything can happen".
            
Red Shirt chairman Jatuporn Prompan said Thursday that he feared a coup was "unavoidable".
            
The anti-government protesters are backed by the traditional elite and many royalist southerners, who view the last 13 years of political dominance by the Shinawatra family as a threat to the monarchy.
 
Scenario 3: Could both sides agree on a 'neutral' prime minister?
            
In the final scenario, Puea Thai and the opposition could agree to nominate a "neutral" prime minister belonging to neither side.
 
            
Interim prime minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan could "ultimately resign as part of an elite compromise in preparation for reforms before elections," suggested Paul Chambers of the Institute of South East Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand.
            
Analysts have agonised in recent weeks over a suitable compromise premier -- but have failed to come up with any plausible candidates.
            
With the two sides bitterly divided, this remains the least likely scenario.
            
Scenting victory, anti-government protesters refuse to budge on their insistence that the government be replaced with an unelected "people's council" with an appointed prime minister at its head.
            
The ruling party says the result of the last election should be respected, believing it can continue to win at the ballot box.
            
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said some form of compromise was needed to bring the crisis to an end.
            
"In order to keep what they have, the established centres of power will have to make some concessions," he said.
            
On their side, he added, the Red Shirts must accept that Thaksin -- adored by the rural poor for his populist policies before he too was deposed, but reviled by the opposition -- is "not the answer for Thailand".
            
"If they can both realise that, then somehow we can navigate a way forward," he said.


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