from Asia Unbound

Thailand Endgame

January 27, 2014

An anti-government protester (C) negotiates with a local official and police officers regarding the closing of a polling stati...blocked its entrance during advance voting for a general election in Bangkok on January 26, 2014. (Nir Elias/Courtesy Reuters)
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Over the weekend, Thailand’s political crisis moved closer to the ultimate endgame, which is a complete takeover by anti-government forces, both in the street and in institutions in Bangkok. Primarily pro-government Thais came out to polls across the country to vote in advance balloting, which went on without incident in much of the North and Northeast. In these places, one might have thought a normal election was proceeding. In Bangkok and parts of the South, the demonstrators blocked many polling booths, and the level of anger and violence went up a notch, if that was even possible. The Economist this weekend essentially suggests that Thailand is going to break apart. I think that’s extreme, but the situation is deteriorating out of control quite quickly.

What do I mean exactly by an unannounced coup? Well, this unannounced coup is, in a way, already essentially taking place. By not allowing the government to enjoy the support of the military in its approach to protesters, and by essentially threatening the Thai government that any violence at all—no matter who is behind the violence—will result in the removal of the Yingluck government, the Thai military is taking a stand in the contest for power. Though it may claim to be neutral, as army commander Prayuth has done on many recent occasions, the military’s lack of overt action is actually sending a clear and partisan message, and one that is on the side of the protesters. For example, although the military allowed the Democrat/Abhisit government to use the army’s base as a center of command and operations during the 2010 unrest in Bangkok, the army and now the Thai air force have refused to allow the Puea Thai/Yingluck government to use their facilities to house a command and operations center. This refusal, as much as if the military took a proactive step in handing over a command and operations center, is an action.

Meanwhile, both the protestors and government agencies continue to slowly undermine the government. Even if Puea Thai wins the upcoming election, it will not be able to fill Parliament, and the government will become weaker and weaker, leaving a vacuum of power that can ultimately be filled by either the “People’s Council,” the military, or some combination of the two. I see no alternative other than this vacuum of power developing and building. Since many potential caretaker figures—moderate Puea Thai leaders, as well as some people from the Privy Council and other elite institutions—have turned down private requests to enter the situation, mediate, and serve as a caretaker prime minister to avoid this vacuum, chaos will only get worse for now.