Thai Government Marks Time

The Financial Times reports on the Thai PM’s plan to buy more rice from farmers as a way of shoring up his support:

Political analysts expressed scepticism that the unusual gambit would resolve the crisis.

“It is part of the government answering the offensive by the PAD and continuing to legitimise itself in a democratic way,” Giles Ungpakorn, a Chulalongkorn University political scientist, said of the referendum plan. “But if the government wins the referendum, will the PAD shut up and go home? No! They are not in a mood to compromise.”

True enough. All this maneuvering seems like a calculated effort to buy time while the government figures out whether it can find a way not to compromise with, split or use force against the PAD. It has no obvious way onto any of those paths.

Time Takes On Thailand

Time magazine tries to unravel the mess in Bangkok:

At stake is nothing less than Thailand’s political future. Will it continue as a fragile democracy attempting, in however flawed a manner, to allow voters to choose their leaders through the ballot box? Or will it return to a past where the upper class took it upon itself to decide what is best for Thailand?

Thailand Update

The Wall Street Journal reports that the current PM is refusing to resign and the Thai army is refusing to confront the protesters. It talks of a “silent coup” and notes that the military was none too fond of the PM’s predecessor, the same man the protesters say he’s emulating.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political-science professor at Chulalongkorn University, suggested that new elections could provide a “clean slate.”

However, “if Mr. Samak is forced out while the PAD is still illegally occupying the Government House compound, that would show that Thailand’s democracy is nothing, that it’s mob rule,” Mr. Thitinan said.

That giant sucking sound you hear is capital fleeing the country if this keeps up.

Thailand Undone

Things are dicey in Thailand, what with a large group of protesters trying to oust the government and key unions now siding with them. Few outsiders know quite what to make of the political alignments involved except that they’re complicated. The International Herald Tribune has the clearest take, though I wouldn’t assume the most accurate one:

According to [University of Washington expert Charles] Keyes and other scholars, the movement in Thailand is not a broadly popular uprising like those in the Philippines that ousted governments, but rather the product of a relatively small alliance uniting several agendas. It pits a modern middle class allied with supporters of the monarchy against a business and financial elite that is championing the nation’s rural and unskilled poor.

The unionists now joining the anti-government movement are part of the contemporary middle class benefiting from Thailand’s modern economy.

The protests are also a battleground between the mostly rural poor and the middle-class establishment. The divide has deepened since Thaksin courted a poor constituency as a foundation of power.

It is taken for granted here that the pro-Thaksin government would win a new election because it has the support of the rural and urban poor, a clear majority of the Thai electorate. This makes a democratic election less attractive for the anti-government group. Protest leaders mostly speak for the middle class, in an alliance of convenience with a royalist establishment that feels threatened by the emerging power of the poor.

Thailand is a rather important piece of the US security puzzle in Asia, so this bears watching.