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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid