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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs