Scenarios: So what happens now in Thailand?

By Nick Macfie

BANGKOK (BestGrowthStock) – Thai anti-government protesters marched in Bangkok on Monday, carrying coffins to symbolize those killed at the weekend. At least 21 people were killed on Saturday, with hundreds wounded.

What happens now?

IS THE VIOLENCE ABOUT TO ERUPT AGAIN?

In the short term, probably not. A stalemate is the most likely scenario.

There is no sign either side is prepared to back down after Saturday’s clashes. The “red shirt” protesters have been emboldened, if anything, by the army’s failure to clear them from one of their main bases in the old part of the city. And they have vowed to fight on in their demand for immediate elections and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s removal from the country.

This week’s Songkran festival, in which people happily soak passers-by with water, is likely to add to the festive atmosphere, despite the violence, at the protest sites and swell numbers. As for the army, it has vowed to uphold the state of emergency, which bans gatherings in public of more than five people, and yet said it will not seek to confront the demonstrators again.

COULD ABHISIT CAVE IN AND DISSOLVE PARLIAMENT?

Possibly. The violence is the worst in 18 years and if the protests continue, the likelihood of further clashes has to be high.

The government has said it does not want to give in to mob rule. But Abhisit has offered few clues as to how he will resolve the crisis that has pitted Thailand’s rural poor, many of whom support ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a coup in 2006, against the metropolitan elite.

But outgoing army chief Anupong Paochinda, keen to retire without bloodshed by his troops, said he thought the protests would end with the dissolution of parliament. Pressure on the ruling Democrats rose on Monday when Thailand’s poll watchdog set in motion a procedure it hopes will lead to the disbanding of the party over suspected donation irregularities. A similar mechanism ended the coalition government supported by Thaksin in 2008.

WILL THE VIOLENCE HURT THE ECONOMY?

The short answer is yes. Credit rating agencies and economists now are saying the escalation of violence will hit tourism revenue, foreign direct investment, economic growth and the country’s ability to repay its debts. Thailand risks shortages of roads, rail and power plants as investors hold back.

But Thailand has had 18 coups since 1932 and protests by yellow shirts, red shirts and many others are a way of life, even if Bangkok has not seen such violence since 1992.

Until the declaration of a state of emergency last week, Thailand, along with the rest of Southeast Asia, had seen a surge in foreign investment inflows, with $1.8 billion coming into Southeast Asia’s second largest economy from February 22 to March 7. Stocks dived over 3 percent on Monday, but there is no sign of a trend. Tourism always bounces back in the Land of Smiles.

IS THERE A CHANCE OF ANOTHER COUP?

It’s not totally out of the question if Abhisit’s government teeters and the men in green who helped assemble his ruling coalition in 2008 risk losing their behind-the-scenes clout.

“The military as an institution has to protect its interest, first and foremost, and if they think Abhisit doesn’t fit their cause any more, then it’s time to start shopping for another option, even if it involves a fresh election and an uncertain future,” said historian Charnvit Kasertsiri.

The military played a pivotal role in brokering the ruling coalition government to keep Thaksin at bay. But the six-party alliance is looking vulnerable, facing internal divisions of its own and lacking enough popular support to win an election.

Adding to the mix is the question of succession of 82-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been in hospital since September 19, and whether an eventual change of monarch would lead to a change in the balance of power in the military, traditionally closely aligned with the palace.

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(Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Scenarios: So what happens now in Thailand?