Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Thailand update

The crisis continues. The cabinet, currently meeting in the northern city of Chang Mai, has called an emergency situation at the two Bangkok airport and told the protesters to go away. The police has surrounded the airports but have not yet tried to forcibly remove them yet. Today the Prime Minister, Mr Somchai, dismissed the head of police and replaced him. The reasons are unclear but more than likely he did not want to follow orders from Chang Mai.

The BBC claims the Prime Minister has lost the confidence of the army chief, General Anupong Paochinda, but the implications are not clear. Many are talking about a potential coup, but the question I asked yesterday remains: if the army wanted to do another coup, why didn't they do it when Mr Somchai was out of the country earlier this week? Now they are in a tough situation because the government is in the north where they have widespread support. Deposing the government in that situation would be risky and the end result highly unpredictable.

But the longer the airport remains occupied, the more the business community will turn against the prosters. From the BBC:

Correspondents say the airport protesters appear increasingly isolated and are losing the support of their traditional sympathisers, the business elite.

The airport closure will cost the country around $4bn (£2.6bn) in lost business and cause serious damage to its reputation as a tourist destination, something which will take the country years to recover from, say analysts.

I think the protesters might have overplayed their hand here. By blocking the airports they are cutting the lifeline to tens of thousands of people who rely on it for business. Their financial interests force them to side with the government now even if their hearts might be with the protesters. The other option would be a military coup but it would be more risky as pro-government counter protests could continue to disrupt the economy or force a bloody repression that would ruin Thailand's image as a tourist destination for years.

My reading of the situation is that the government will end up winning and the PAD protesters will be dispersed.

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