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Thai rival camps need to pull back

Publication Date : 15-01-2014


Outsiders are aghast at what is happening in Bangkok, with a lawfully elected government blockaded while agitators seek to overturn rules of contesting for power.

The city has been brought to a halt by protesters who have blocked roads and threaten to commandeer government buildings, but a worse fate could befall the nation. The declared aim of the anti-Shinawatra forces is the removal of the Puea Thai government, by any means necessary.

Taken together with threats to disrupt airport control operations and the stock exchange, it would effectively shut down the city - with civil strife, lawlessness and partial closure to the outside world assured.

It is inconceivable the anti-government camp, led by former Democrat Party senior minister Suthep Thaugsuban, has not thought through the consequences.

An interim government that he proposes - comprising unelected officials to replace Yingluck Shinawatra's administration - is a move so fraught he will face a terrible fightback from Puea Thai red shirt forces. They regard this as a struggle for their dignity and rights as they hold the electoral balance of power.

A counter-offensive would be the point of maximum danger. The army will be obliged to restore order and ensure compliance with the Constitution of the day. A whole painful cycle will be repeated.

Hence, both sides need to pause and evaluate what is workable to pull Thailand back from the edge. If some form of interim power sharing is feasible, they should have a proper debate.

Prime Minister Yingluck's offer to discuss the Election Commission's request to postpone the February 2 election is a significant concession. She did not have to waver as seeking a fresh mandate is a rational step to take when the right to govern is what the impasse is about.

It is an opening to plausible alternatives her opponents cannot in good conscience reject if they are serious about promoting the national interest. In declining to talk with her, Suthep is saying he means to resolve a political dispute by means that circumvent the collective judgment of the people. The risk to Thailand is that he may yet prevail.

The opposition Democrat Party's decision not to contest the elections would not undermine Puea Thai's legitimacy, should it win a majority. But those incumbents who face legal sanction by the Constitutional Court or the anti-corruption commission for alleged breaches could have their parliamentary status or even eligibility to contest questioned.

The cycle of unrest is causing great harm to tourism, foreign investment, competitiveness, social harmony and Thailand's long-term political future. Now, more than ever, rival parties need to jointly find ways to steer the country to safety.


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