Thailand GE 2014: The story so far...

Who are the key players?

As Thailand heads into a controversial general election on Feb 2, here is a look at the two key players who will be vying for the top political position in the country.

Suthep Suthep
Yingluck Shinawatra Caretaker Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban Protest leader & former deputy prime minister
Goals
bulletTo stay in power bulletTo hold a Feb 2 snap poll to seek re-election bulletTo topple the Yingluck government bulletTo derail the Feb 2 election bulletTo set up an unelected "people's council" to oversee political reforms
Supporters
bulletThe caretaker Cabinet bulletThe ruling Puea Thai party bulletThe "Red Shirts", the most influential faction being the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), comprising mainly poorer rural masses from the north and northeast bulletFormer premier Abhisit Vejjajiva's opposition Democrat party* bulletThe Democrats' southern Thailand supporters bulletThe "yellow shirts", or the People's Democratic Reform Committee(PDRC), comprising mainly urban middle class and traditional elites
Challenges
bulletFacing accusations of being a puppet of her brother, self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was found guilty of corruption in 2008 bulletFacing probe by anti-graft body over her role in a controversial rice subsidy scheme bulletFacing murder charges over his role in the bloody crackdown on anti-government protests in 2010 bulletFacing arrest over charges of insurrection bulletFacing arrest over violation of emergency decree

* The Democrat Party joined the protest movement and said it would boycott the Feb 2 polls, but it disagreed with PDRC's proposal to have a "people's council".

Why is Yingluck's camp up against Suthep's camp?

The two camps are fundamentally fighting over who will be in power when the frail 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej passes on. Ms Yingluck's supporters, many from the rural north, have generally benefited from her brother, self-made billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra's populist programmes during his tenure as the premier. They see him as their ticket to upward mobility, and remain fiercely loyal to the self-exiled leader, who now lives in Dubai to dodge a corruption sentence.  

The ''red shirt'' movement emerging in the aftermath of the 2006 coup d'etat that ousted Thaksin has challenged Thailand's age-old status quo, in which the country was essentially ruled by Bangkok's old elites.

Mr Suthep's camp comprises a mix of royalist elites, civil servants and urban middle class. The Bangkok elites draw their social power and privilege from the patronage of the monarchy, which apart from wielding extra-constitutional influence, includes the Crown Property Bureau, which manages an estimated S$38 billion worth of royal wealth. 

Threatened by Thaksin's popularity with the masses and dogged refusal to go away quietly, and coupled with the twilight of King Bhumibol's monarch, they are bent on preventing a nationwide election, which will almost certainly put Thaksin affiliates back to power. 


Why the need for snap poll? 

On Dec 8, 2013, opposition MPs from the Abhisit-led Democrat Party quit Parliament en masse to join the Suthep-led anti-government movement. In response, Ms Yingluck called a snap election for Feb 2, 2014, knowing that her Puea Thai party will most likely win the polls given its popularity with the huge rural voting block in the north.


What are the possible outcomes?

1. Status quo The election will go ahead on Feb 2, with Ms Yingluck’s Puea Thai party claiming most of the seats in the north. But with the Democrat Party boycotting the polls and the PDRC anti-goverment protesters blocking registration venues, at least 28 constituencies in the south will not be contested, making it impossible for Ms Yingluck to form a Parliament, which requires at least 475 out of the 500 seats in Lower House filled. She will then have to continue running a caretaker government, while the PDRC continues with its street marches.

2. One country, two administrationsIf the election is postponed, pro-government “red-shirts” and other groups in Bangkok who want to exercise their right to vote will see it as a subversion of democracy. The PDRC, on the other hand, will still not likely to get its “people’s council”, which is unconstitutional.

The growing rift might bring about even more street violence, which could lead to a far-fetched but not impossible scenario: a partitioned Thailand with two administrations.

3. Military coup If Ms Yingluck’s government were brought down by corruption charges before polling day, the army, which has so far stayed out of the fray, may have to seize power in the name of security and stability.


How has a volatile Thailand affected the country’s economy? Thailand’s economic growth could slip from the projected 5.2 per cent to three per cent this year if the unrest were to persist, the finance ministry warns.

The Thai baht has suffered, dropping to its lowest since 2010 in early January, at 33.12 per US dollar, signalling a dip in investor confidence.

The weaker currency might not help increase export demand either. Foreign buyers worried about the punctuality of deliveries given Bangkok’s prolonged “shutdown” might turn to other countries for supplies.

Tourist income has clearly suffered a hit with many popular sites in downtown Bangkok now under siege.


How has a volatile Thailand affected Singapore?

Some local travel agencies have reported a plunge in sales in the face of weaker travel demand to Bangkok. Last year, 936,477 visitors arrived in Thailand from Singapore.

Singapore Airlines has cancelled 43 flights between Jan 14 and Feb 27. Tigerair has also cut 6 flights in January. Singapore-own retailers near protest sites in Bangkok have reported reduced customer traffic and falling sales.


Timeline

Oct 31: Protest against a proposed amnesty Bill, which critics say is aimed at paving way for self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to return as a free man, begins.

Nov 11: Thai Senate rejects the amnesty Bill, but protesters refuse to budge and vow to purge the country of any “corrupting” influence from Thaksin and his younger sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Nov 24: Some 180,000 people show up at Bangkok’s anti-government rally, while around 50,000 joined a pro-government “red-shirt” rally.

Nov 25: Protesters start occupying state buildings and the finance ministry.

Nov 26: Police issue arrest warrant for protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who is accused of insurrection. Ms Yingluck faces a no-confidence motion in Parliament as the opposition tries to unseat the government through legal means.

Nov 27: Protests spread beyond Bangkok.

Nov 28: Ms Yingluck survives no-confidence vote in Parliament.

Nov 29: Protesters enter military headquarters and urge the army to join their causes. The army declines to step in.

Nov 30: First death in street clashes reported.

Dec 1: Police use tear gas and water cannon on protesters at Government House and police headquarters.

Dec 3: Tensions ease after security authorities unexpectedly roll back barricades to allow protesters to conduct symbolic occupations of government buildings. Dec 5: Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej celebrates 86th birthday, calls for peace and unity in the country.

Dec 8: Opposition MPs from the Abhisit-led Democrat Party quit Parliament en masse to join anti-government movement.

Dec 9: Ms Yingluck calls a snap election for Feb 2.

Dec 12: Protesters cut power and water at Government House.

Dec 21: Democrat Party says it will boycott the Feb 2 polls.

Jan 13: Protesters launch “Bangkok shutdown”, pouring onto the streets, blocking major intersections and access to ministries and other state agencies.

Jan 16: Thai’s anti-graft body says it is conducting a probe into Ms Yingluck’s role in a populist, controversial rice subsidy scheme.

Jan 17: A grenade lands on a lorry driven by protesters, killing one person and wounding more than 30.

Jan 19: Two grenades are lobbed at an anti-government rally site, wounding close to 30 people.

Jan 21: Ms Yingluck declares a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and three adjacent provinces.

Jan 22: Mr Kwanchai Praiphana, a prominent “red-shirt” leader, is shot outside his office. Police recover 42 bullet casings at the scene.

Jan 24: Thailand’s Constitutional Court rules that the Feb 2 polls can be legally postponed, with the agreement of the prime minister and the EC.

Jan 26: Mr Suthin Tharathin, a prominent anti-government protest leader, is shot dead.Advance voting goes unimpeded in the north and northeast, but in Bangkok, access to most polling booths are blocked by anti-government protesters. Voting is disrupted in 83 out of 375 electoral areas, the EC says.

Jan 27: The EC says the Feb 2 polls should be delayed for at least a month to prevent escalating violence. Interior Minister and Puea Thai chief Jarupong Ruangsuwan accuses the EC and Constitutional Court of favouring anti-government protesters. Mr Suthep rejects negotiation bid with government, calls on protesters to continue occupying key state buildings.

Jan 28: Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul wants the Feb 2 polls to go ahead as scheduled. Ms Yingluck meets the EC to finalise the vote date.