Uncertain times

The months-old political crisis in Thailand is fast moving to a denouement with the street protests against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva showing no signs of slowing down and the military establishment calling for early elections to end the deadlock.
Much of the country, including Bangkok, is under a state of emergency, as the government has found it difficult to carry on with its normal functions after supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra came out on the streets demanding early elections. Thaksin was ousted in military coup in 2006 and is living in exile but he continues to enjoy widespread support. The government which replaced him with the support of the military is considered to be pro-urban and pro-middle class. It also has the support of the monarchy which has an important role in Thailand’s politics.

Thaksin was convicted for corruption after his ouster from office but this has not dented his popularity with the rural masses. His government had introduced a number of welfare schemes for the rural masses, which earned him loyal supporters. The Red Shirts, as his supporters are called, have been holding demonstrations in Bangkok for months and recently they have turned violent also. A number of people were killed last week in clashes between them and the security forces. The Abhisit Vejjajjiva government has been weakened by the mass protests and by a recent revelations that his party had received illegal donations.

Vejjajiva had promised that elections would be held in December this year, but with the military calling for dissolution of parliament and immediate elections, he will find it difficult to continue in power for long. The monarchy had supported Vejjajiva but the much-respected King Bhumibol Atulyatej is ailing and the crown prince is considered to be a supporter of Shinawatra. The prime minister does not have many options left now. Early elections, if they are held, will most probably lead to the return of pro-Thaksin forces to power. Even the military may not like it, though it has called for early elections. The developments are likely to put pressure on Thailand’s democracy. The country was under military rule for much of the last century and democracy, whenever it was restored, was unable to sustain itself. The prospects of a stable democratic outcome is grim even now.

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