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3 possible scenarios for political crisis in Thailand
Publication Date : 23-01-2014
Thailand's beleaguered ruling party is banking on snap polls on February 2 to renew its mandate.
But hope is fast fading that an election - if indeed it happens - will resolve the country's bitter political stand-off.
There is massive pressure on the government - from protesters in the streets of Bangkok, and from the Election Commission itself - to delay the February 2 polls over fears of an inadequate result.
The commission has petitioned the Constitutional Court for an opinion on who has the authority to postpone the election.
Analysts say that in reality, neither an election nor a delay will resolve the volatile political crisis.
"This round of crisis will run for weeks and months," said Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn University's Institute for Security and International Studies.
Here are three possible scenarios.
The election goes ahead on February 2, boycotted by the opposition Democrat Party with its ally, the anti- government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), trying to derail the process and force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra out of office, as well as the Shinawatra clan out of politics. There is violence and turnout suffers.
Given the lack of opposition, Ms Yingluck's Puea Thai party emerges the winner, carried by votes in the rural north and the northeast. However, if it gets substantially fewer than the 15 million votes it garnered in the last election in 2011, it will be accused of lacking legitimacy.
At this point, the Puea Thai may be unable to form a Parliament as at least 28 constituencies in the south - the Democrat Party's stronghold - have no candidates registered. This is because PDRC activists blocked registration venues. The PDRC is, in effect, the street wing of the Democrat Party.
This threatens to leave Parliament short of the required quorum of 475 seats in the 500-seat House.
By law, three rounds of by-elections must be held to fill the missing seats. But in the current political climate, no analyst is willing to even guess the success of the exercise that would have to be carried out by a reluctant Election Commission.
The caretaker government will have to continue in office, but in an increasingly untenable position with no clear legal mandate.
The election is postponed, which would likely anger pro-government "red shirts" who would see that as a subversion of democracy.
Others who support an election, even if they do not necessarily support the government, would also be dismayed.
In Bangkok and the south, the PDRC continues to protest as long as Yingluck remains as caretaker prime minister.
Yet the PDRC's prescription - setting up an unelected "people's council" to run the country and ram through sweeping reforms before allowing a return to electoral democracy, is unlikely to fly either as it is unconstitutional.
Such a council would need royal endorsement. "It will be very difficult to do it without the King's blessing," said one senior politician who asked not to be named.
The risk of clashes between pro- and anti-government groups, and "professional violence" by third parties, as Chulalongkorn University professor Pitch Pongsawat calls it, increases.
This, in turn, makes it more likely that the army will intervene to quell the violence.
The army's intervention will be seen by red shirts as part of a conspiracy of the Bangkok elites.
"A coup d'etat will be bad for political parties on both sides; we really don't want that," said the opposition Democrat Party's Korbsak Sabhavasu, a former deputy prime minister.
Puea Thai supporters want the election to take place. But they are not optimistic about the outcome. At red-shirt rallies in the northeast, there is already talk of partitioning the country - a vision still far-fetched but no longer spoken of in whispers.
Criticism of the royalist establishment in Bangkok, including the monarchy itself, is also growing as they are seen as supporting anti-government protesters, beginning with the coup d'etat of 2006 that ousted Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra.
The government is brought down before the February 2 election.
"In the coming weeks before and after the election date, Yingluck will remain caretaker prime minister but will look increasingly impotent because state agencies and personnel will increasingly not be answerable to her," Thitinan wrote in an e-mail.
"There is a good possibility that in this interim of confusion and controversy, Yingluck may be disqualified by the independent agencies on one or more… corruption and fraud charges. If so, we can then expect the opposing backlash."
This would also inevitably lead to the army seizing power in the name of security and stability.