News / Asia

Thai Economy at Risk as Political Rivals Vow Mass Rallies

People hold candles as they form a peace sign during an anti-violence campaign in center of Bangkok, Thailand, Jan. 3, 2014.
People hold candles as they form a peace sign during an anti-violence campaign in center of Bangkok, Thailand, Jan. 3, 2014.
Reuters
Thailand's finance minister expressed concern about a weak currency and damage to the economy on Friday as supporters and opponents of the government prepared for big rallies this month that risk pushing the divided country to the brink of chaos.
 
Planned infrastructure projects worth $65 billion intended to boost an economy blighted by political tension and sagging exports would be postponed until the end of the year, Kittirat Na Ranong said, while the baht's slide against the U.S. dollar could hurt imports and raise energy prices.
 
Protesters intent on toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government want to suspend Thailand's fragile democracy by thwarting a February election and installing a "people's council" to reform the political system.
 
They are planning a "shutdown" of Bangkok from January 13, deepening uncertainty about a poll Yingluck's Puea Thai Party would otherwise be almost certain to win. Protesters have yet to reveal exactly what they will target, or for how long.
 
The crisis is similar to previous years, with the country polarized over the political dominance of Yingluck's brother and former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail sentence.
 
Many of Bangkok's middle classes, old-money elites and royalists are angered by the influence of a man they say is a corrupt crony capitalist who manipulated the poor with giveaways designed to win votes and entrench the power of his billionaire family and business friends.
 
However, millions of poor in the north and northeast who benefited from cheap healthcare, micro-loans and generous subsidies hail Thaksin as a hero and are willing to take to the streets to defend his governments.
 
Those supporters, better known as the "red shirts", held mass rallies in support of Thaksin in 2010, which ended with the deaths of more than 90 people in military offensives to retake occupied sites in Bangkok.
 
The red shirts, who were instrumental in bringing Yingluck to power in 2011, announced on Friday they would enter the fray by holding rallies of their own outside the capital to protect democracy and counter those staged by the anti-government group.
 
'We want election’
 
"Red shirts will gather across the country to show the world who are the owners of sovereignty," said one of their leaders, Nattawut Saikuar, who is also deputy commerce minister. "We want an election and we will go for it."
 
The prospect of rival groups gathering in large numbers does not bode well for Thailand and risks intensifying a crisis that in recent weeks has seen sporadic bouts of violence, including clashes between demonstrators and riot police and several deadly shootings by mystery gunmen.
 
Anti-government demonstrators plan to march through Bangkok daily starting from Sunday in a bid to re-energize supporters after the year-end break, before which more than 200,000 had rallied peacefully in the capital.
 
Political concerns have had an impact on markets and the currency, mainly due to worries that the Feb. 2 election called by Yingluck to reduce tensions would have the opposite effect.

Bearish bets on the Thai baht are at their highest in nearly two years as the political crisis escalates, according to a Reuters poll released on Friday.
 
The baht slid to 32.98 per dollar on Friday, its weakest since February 2010. The benchmark stock index closed down 0.5 percent at 1,224.62 on Friday, with investors selling major stocks. Earlier it hit 1,208.60, the lowest since August 2012, and has lost 15 percent since the start of November.
 
"The current weakness of the Thai baht is a bit of a worry," Finance Minister Kittirat told reporters. "It is supportive to exports but could hurt imports and the cost of energy."
 
Any postponement to the poll, which the Election Commission has asked for, could seriously impact policymaking and expose the government to more attacks and the possibility of military or judicial intervention, analysts say.
 
Yingluck refuses to cave in and says a change of the poll date would be unconstitutional.
 
The crisis seemed unlikely only a few months ago, when Thaksin's opponents appeared to be tolerating Yingluck's government. Her Puea Thai party tried to force through an amnesty bill that would have nullified Thaksin's conviction, sparking the latest round of protests.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs