The Big Question: Will the ending of the airport sit-in resolve the Thai crisis? - Asia - World - The Independent

The Big Question: Will the ending of the airport sit-in resolve the Thai crisis?

Why are we asking this now?

Tomorrow, if all goes to plan, flights from Bangkok's main international airport will resume, after Thai anti-government protesters agreed to end their occupation, allowing thousands of stranded tourists to leave. The unrest has left thousands of British holidaymakers furious, stranded in paradise, and the crisis has raised major fears that one of South-east Asia's healthiest democracies could slide into chaos and anarchy.

Protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a loose alliance of big business interests, Bangkok's upper-middle-class and those who dislike the politics of the former prime minister and ex-Manchester City FC owner Thaksin Shinawatra, occupied the Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat's office in the city's government district two months ago, and last week stormed Suvarnabhumi International airport and the mostly domestic Don Muang airport.

The protesters agreed to disperse after the Constitutional Court dissolved Mr Somchai's government, yesterday after finding three of the six parties in the ruling coalition guilty of buying votes in the 2007 election which brought it to power. The grins are getting thin in a country known as the Land of Smiles.

What will the government do now?

Even in a country used to dealing with a significant degree of instability – it has witnessed 18 coups or attempted coups in 76 years of stop-start democracy – recent events have given a sense of a country unravelling into something far worse. So for the time being, there is no government as the country's highest court has dissolved it. Most commentators believe the government may simply be reincarnated under a different name, which would prompt more protests and wider instability.

The first issue on the agenda of whoever takes over the reins will be tourism: losses in this crucial business could run to 150bn baht (£2.8bn), about 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product. And there are broader fears that the unrest could worsen the impact of the global slowdown and tip the export-driven economy into recession.

The army have a big role in this, right?

Absolutely. In September 2006 the military staged a coup while Mr Thaksin was at the UN headquarters in New York, and the political tumult has not eased since then. Early on in the crisis, the army commander, General Anupong Paochinda, called for snap elections and for the opposition to end their occupation of the airports, which would have left the military in control and would be a de facto coup.

What about the King?

King Bhumibol Adulyadej tends to try to distance himself from domestic conflicts, he only intervenes when it is absolutely necessary. He is due to address the nation tomorrow, on the eve of his 81st birthday, and the beloved monarch's speech will be closely watched for clues on how the country will be ruled from now on. He is the most important political figure in Thailand, and anything he says goes. However, the succession issue is high on the agenda.

It's a safe bet that he has no interest in intervening in the current crisis. His wife Queen Sirikit attended the funeral of an anti-government protester killed in clashes with police. The Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is linked in the popular imagination to Mr Thaksin, which is interpreted by some as a sign the royal family is divided on how to resolve the current crisis.

So, how can itbe resolved?

This is indeed an incredibly complicated situation. The anti-government protesters want what they call a "new politics", which would involve an appointed parliament dominated by bureaucrats and the army. Even though Mr Somchai was democratically elected, they believe he, Mr Thaksin and their supporters have been using a large war chest from their considerable business interests to buy votes in the countryside and in the north of the country, and that the straight vote system works against them. They say Mr Thaksin's strong control of the media puts them at a disadvantage.

Pro-government supporters have become very active in the past few days, staging rallies wearing red shirts and headbands. On the surface, they look like exact counterparts of the anti-government protesters – the pro-government lobby uses clapping-heart toys instead of the clapping-hand toys of the opposition, and wear red rather than yellow shirts. But the difference is striking in terms of demographics – this is a much poorer crowd, made up of taxi drivers, labourers and people from the countryside. In contrast to the "yellow" protests, few on the "red" side speak English and the movement seems less well-equipped.

Ultimately, Mr Thaksin and his successors are democratically elected, vote-buying or not, which makes it difficult to predict what will happen.

Will there be civil war?

Fears that Thailand could spill over into total civil war arise from the political gulf between the Bangkok elite and middle classes, who revile Mr Thaksin, and the majority rural and urban poor who loved his populist style. Mr Somchai's government moved to Chiang Mai, its northern stronghold, after anti-government protesters occupied the PM's office in downtown Bangkok. It truly highlighted the regional divide in Thailand.

The opposition wants to unseat Mr Somchai's government because it says Mr Somchai is a puppet of Mr Thaksin, his brother-in-law. Mr Thaksin and his allies stand accused of corruption and abuse of power, and Mr Thaksin is now in exile, probably in Dubai, a fugitive from a conviction for violating a conflict of interest law. The latest speculation is that Potjaman Shinawatra, Mr Thaksin's wife, will be back to take over the reins at the head of the political movement he founded, but with which he cannot be officially linked. Expect more instability in Thailand for the time being.

Will the airport protesters ever get what they want?

Yes...

* The PAD have huge numbers of supporters buoyed by the success of the airport stand-off.

* They have successfully forced out the Prime Minister – their key demand has already been satisfied.

* The protesters are not hated – they offered refreshments to passengers inconvenienced by their protest.

No...

* Democracy work against the anti-government movement. Mr Thaksin maintains popular support.

* The army has not intervened, but a coup would just lead to an election, which Mr Thaksin's people will win.

* The protesters have not yet received the explicit support of the royal family, whose help they need.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week