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Asia

Thailand's middle class must 'pick a path'

All legal means to topple the government have been exhausted in Thailand's power struggle. 'Will the middle class back the escalation of violence?' Southeast Asia expert Marc Saxer asks.

DW: Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has survived a no-confidence vote in parliament, but the protests against the Shinawatra regime continue. What can the government do to alleviate the situation?

Marc Saxer: You have to see it in context with the current situation. In the end, the are three ways the government could be toppled: First of all, last week's ruling by the constitutional court, which could have dissolved the ruling party, but didn't; Second, the anti-corruption agency, which could have also dissolved the ruling party and banned its delegates. But that has not happened, either. Thirdly, there is the risk of a coup, but most analysts don't think that is likely this time around.

That means the government has won the vote and is still under pressure from protesters on the streets, but not under as much pressure as if they were going to be toppled. So the ball is really in the protesters' court.

What options do the protesters have?

Several government buildings are still occupied by the protestors. The strategy of escalation has been in full swing since Monday, November 25. On one hand, it increases pressure on the government, but, on the other, it also creates a legitimacy problem for the protesters.

Marc Saxer, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung representative in Bangkok. (Photo: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung)

'Protesters didn't want the amnesty law to apply to the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra'

Suthep Thaugsuban, the self-proclaimed leader of the protests, has started the anti-government campaign under the banner of civil-disobedience. He has firmly preached non-violence.

However, violence has been used now - ministries have been stormed, which constitutes a criminal offense, and a German journalist has been physically attacked. There have been a series of violent clashes.

Will the situation escalate further?

The protest movement reached its peak last Sunday. In Thailand, it is very difficult to come up with reliable figures. While the leaders of the protests claim that a million people took part in the demonstrations, the police put the figure at around 50,000. A more plausible figure might be between 100,000 and 150,000. There were not only fanatics or ultra-royalists among the protestors on the streets, but also people from Bangkok's middle class communities, who are simply fed up with the government's corruption and nepotism.

These people didn't want the amnesty law to apply to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This demand has already been fulfilled. But will the people let the situation escalate now? Do they want to overthrow the government and oust the Thaksin regime, as demanded by the radicals? In short, the question is whether the middle class will go along with the radicals and resort to violence, to criminal acts to force a regime change. I don't think that's likely.

The military has often played a decisive role in Thai politics, for instance, when it ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power in 2006. Why is the military restraining itself this time around?

The military has already achieved everything it can. The constitution - written by the military itself - already includes an amnesty for the 2006 coup. The military's budget is incredibly large. The military doesn't have much for want, especially considering the number of staff promotions every year.

There is every indication that there is an arrangement between the government and the military leadership - some sort of mutual agreement, according to which, the military will not get involved in politics this time around. The government, in turn, is to leave the military alone.

Could the king calm things down?

He did that once in 1992. The king has great authority, but many observers believe that the trouble of the last few of years have also in part been about the succession to the throne. I would not like to comment on this any further.

Marc Saxer heads the Bangkok office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

The interview was conducted by Rodion Ebbighausen.

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