Protests in Bangkok demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra turned violent over the weekend. A “people’s coup” declared by the opposition Democrat Party stormed the premier’s office. The military, however, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years, stood aside from the uprising and protesters abruptly ended a rally at national police headquarters on Wednesday, suggesting that tensions were easing.
Thailand appears to “contradict the longstanding idea in political science that as populations become wealthier and more educated, they will become more democratic”, said Slate.com’s Joshua Keating. The wealthy, urban, educated middle classes appear to fear losing control of the country to the poor, rural supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose party they see as corrupt, authoritarian, populist rabble rousers. The Bangkok elite, bolstered by the military, saw off Thaksin in a coup in 2006. Now they are trying to remove his sister, elected in 2011.
Yet another bout of political uncertainty is the last thing the economy needs. During the last two periods of unrest, in 2006 and 2010, the key tourism sector suffered. This time the global economy does not look strong enough to ensure that goods exports can make up some of the lost ground in tourism, while the domestic economy is also lacklustre, because “consumers are wilting”, said Lex in the Financial Times.
At 75% of GDP, household debt is on a par with richer economies, such as Malaysia’s or South Korea’s. Stretched household balance sheets help explain why consumer confidence has fallen to a two-year low. So it’s no wonder the central bank has trimmed its 2013 growth forecast from 3.7% to 3%. Even assuming political tensions ease, concluded Lex, “it’s hard to see a pick-up” in the Thai stockmarket.