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Thai authorities tighten security as political clash feared

LiveMint logoLiveMint 12-05-2014 Anuchit Nguyen

Bangkok: Thai security officials said they will arrest protest leaders seeking to install an appointed prime minister as rising tensions threaten to spark fresh clashes between supporters and opponents of the government.

We ask people to leave protest sites and warn your children and family members to stay away for their own safety, Tarit Pengdit, the director-general of the Department of Special Investigation, said on Sunday in Bangkok.

Thousands of pro-government supporters held a rally on Bangkok’s outskirts at the weekend to protest last week’s ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra by the Constitutional Court. Inside the capital, anti-government groups called on lawmakers to install a people’s council that would rewrite electoral laws to keep Yingluck’s family out of politics.

Appointing an unelected prime minister is not only against the law, it may also spark violence, Tarit said. It will also anger the opposing group, which may escalate into clashes and eventually turn into a civil war.

The People’s Democratic Reform Committee, led by former opposition politician Suthep Thaugsuban, has staged a six-month street campaign targeting allies of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother who was deposed in a 2006 coup. They accuse the Shinawatras of crony capitalism and using populist policies to secure the support of rural voters.

Acting leader

Yingluck was forced to step down 7 May after being found guilty of abuse of power, and her Pheu Thai Party selected Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan to hold on as acting premier until an election tentatively scheduled for 20 July. Thaksin-allied parties have won the past five polls, while the main opposition Democrat Party, which is aligned with the anti-government demonstrators, hasn’t won a vote in more than two decades.

If the anti-government protesters continue to provoke and resort to political violence, we could see some sort of clash, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University and author of Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and His Foreign Policy, said on Monday in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

The stalemate remains the biggest risk to the economy, which expanded 2.9% last year, central bank governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said 8 May. The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce said last week the economy may contract in the first half, after releasing data that showed consumer confidence slipped for a 13th straight month in April.

Stock slump

Thailand’s benchmark SET Index of stocks fell 0.3% to 1,372.99 as of 10:25 am in Bangkok, poised for the lowest close since 28 March. The baht was little changed at 32.629 per dollar and earlier reached 32.663, the weakest level in about 10 weeks.

At least 25 people have been killed in political violence since late November, and government supporters are concerned that fresh clashes may prompt the military to stage a coup. Army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha said at the weekend that the deadlock must be solved through legal means.

A military coup will not end the conflict, he said. A coup will attract a lot of criticism. The conflict must be resolved through a legal framework.

Thailand, a constitutional monarchy since 1932, has seen nine coups and more than 20 prime ministers since 1946, when King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, assumed the throne. The monarch, whose portrait is hung in most homes and shops, was admitted to the hospital in September 2009, according to the Royal Household Bureau. The king moved in August last year to the Klai Kangwon Palace in the Hua Hin district of Prachuap Khiri Khan province.

Suthep’s deadline

Prayuth said a coup isn’t the answer, said Jatuporn Prompan, head of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, the pro-government group known as the Red Shirts. If he does it, he will face the Red Shirts. If he doesn’t, we will applaud him.

With the army reluctant to intervene to break the impasse, anti-government protesters repeated a call for the Senate and courts to appoint a prime minister.

Suthep said lawmakers have until Monday to solve the crisis, or he’ll resolve the deadlock himself. He faces charges of sedition and treason linked to the latest protest, and murder charges stemming from his time as deputy premier in 2010, when he oversaw a military crackdown on Thaksin supporters in Bangkok that killed more than 90 people.

‘Unlawful’ demand

Suthep’s demand to install a Cabinet is unlawful and offends the king’s power, the DSI’s Tarit said, adding that security officials have enough information to indicate that there will be violence if he goes ahead with the plan.

Thailand’s Senate must proceed with caution because there are a number of people who won’t accept the nomination of a new prime minister, Speaker Surachai Liengboonlertchai told reporters 10 May. Senators will discuss the political deadlock at an informal meeting later Monday.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations said in a statement at the weekend that it supports Thailand’s efforts for a peaceful resolution to the ongoing challenge in the country through dialogue and in full respect of democratic principle and rule of law.

The government has had limited powers since December, when Yingluck dissolved parliament to appease protesters. A February poll was invalidated by a court on the grounds the vote didn’t take place across the country on the same day, something that wasn’t possible because protesters blocked voting in some areas.

The government and the Election Commission have agreed to a new poll on 20 July, though a decree has yet to be submitted for royal approval. The Democrat Party has threatened to boycott that vote, as it did in February.

There is no incentive for them to go into the elections knowing that they would be losing in the electoral game once again, and that could pave the way for Thaksin’s proxy to return to politics, Kyoto University’s Pavin said. Even if there is an election, there would be some sort of obstacle as we saw in February. BLOOMBERG

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