As Thailand experienced another day of emergency the protesters who have set up camp at Government House in Bangkok refused to budge until Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej resigned. Meanwhile, a strike call by unions was largely unheeded by workers across the country where it was business as usual for most. Observers fear the political crisis could go on a while.
An anti-government protester outside Government House in Bangkok refusing to budge despite the emergency
Thousands of diehards at Government House refused to back down on Tuesday. They would not let up until Samak left office, they insisted. The state of emergency that was imposed on Monday had done nothing to change their minds.
But among the general population not everyone was backing the protesters. One young man said the government was right to react harshly to the increasing violence on the streets: “It was necessary to declare an emergency. People cannot break the law like that.”
He belonged to the slight majority that supports the government’s decision, according to an opinion poll by Thailand’s Assumption University.
However, many -- such as this citizen -- were not convinced that the emergency would bring change: “The situation is not good at all. The government doesn’t have any control anymore. Even though they’ve declared an emergency they are not masters of the situation.”
This was also reflected by the country’s fluctuating stock market, which refuses to stabilise as the political crisis continues. Economists feared the emergency situation would scare off investors, causing even more turmoil in the national economy.
Democracy is at stake
However, the issue most at stake seems to be Thailand’s democracy. Some observers have even voiced their concern about a civil war. But Gerhard Will from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs did not think this was likely.
Will said one had to look at the larger picture: “Bangkok and Thailand are not the same. What we’re seeing right now in Bangkok are very militant demonstrations. The movement is enjoying a certain degree of success but one should not forget that two thirds of the population still live in rural areas and have different working conditions -- these people form the base of the current government.”
Samak Sundaravej, like the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled to Britain last month to avoid a corruption trial, is supported by a large majority of the rural poor, who propelled his ruling People’s Power Party to victory in the December 2007 elections.
Allegations of election fraud
But the opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy believes that the election results should be discredited because of election fraud in Thailand’s countryside.
On Tuesday, the Election Commission recommended that the ruling party be disbanded for vote buying, even though it could be months before the courts actually implement this ruling.
Ironically, despite its name, the PAD is calling for a constitutional change, which would bring less democracy to Thailand.
It wants 70 percent of the seats in the National Assembly and in the Senate to be appointed, not elected. Otherwise, it thinks, corrupt and power-hungry leaders will always get the votes they need to stay in power.
Going round in circles
The PAD’s primary aim right now, however, is to push Samak to resign even though it is not very clear who should replace him. Because of this uncertainty, some analysts have toyed with the idea that there could be another military coup.
Gerhard Will from the Institute for Security Affairs explained that this would be “a development that would mean we were going round in circles. There already was a military putsch in 2006 when the government was deposed."
"Sooner or later elections have to be held, and then a government that doesn’t suit the military or the old elites comes to power. The old elites and the opposition too, don’t have a politically viable idea for developing Thailand further. That’s the real problem.”
Thailand has witnessed 18 military coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.