Thai politics in the new year will be marred by intensifying conflicts caused by both political division and economic problems, political veterans have forecast.
Former Democrat leader Banyat Bantadtan, now a senior party MP, believes the country's gloomy political outlook is a result of four factors that cropped up last year.
The first was the government's adoption of an authoritarian appro-ach in its administration against political opponents - such as the move to press murder charges against Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and senior MP Suthep Thaugsuban.
"Legal experts all said that these charges are far-fetched. Another incident was the violent crackdown on protesters who were led by General Boonlert Kaewprasit. History shows that wherever there is oppression, there will be more struggle for justice," he said.
The second factor was the rising cost of living and plummeting prices of agricultural produce that have driven street protests by farmers. "If the government ignores the problem, we will witness more rallies this year," he warned.
The third factor was the push to amend the entire Constitution by using a public referendum to legalise the move and claiming the current charter was derived from a dictatorship. This could be another root of political conflict that may turn violent because the public believes the government has a hidden agenda, Banyat said.
The more arrogant and demanding red-shirt movement, he said, was another key factor that would shape political landscape.
If these four factors continue this year, he believes there will be more anti-government rallies.
"The charter amendment and the authoritarianism will be a more powerful catalyst than the other two factors that could bring about political chaos," Banyat said.
Asked if he thought Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could handle the situation and rein in the red shirts, Banyat said her brother would. "The government has been given the nickname 'First Brother's Government', so 'the brother' will have to rein them in."
As for how "the first brother" would orchestrate political moves this year, Banyat said what the PM's brother Thaksin Shinawatra had done indicated a man of multiple personalities.
"He wants to go on the offensive and fulfil his personal desire, but deep down, he knows if he does that, he will rock the government's stability. So he also tries not to rock the boat so the government holds on to power as long as possible," Banyat said.
Chief opposition whip Jurin Laksanawisit, another senior Democrat, said the government would be a key factor on whether the country suffered political turmoil or not. He listed factors that would cause a crisis of public faith:
- the government breaking the law or allowing corruption;
- the PM showing a lack of leadership;
- the PM avoiding responsibility and failing to keep her promise of not taking revenge;
- the PM allowing interference by power from outside the country;
- the PM managing national affairs for her own group of supporters.
"If the government creates conditions that lead to political conflict, such as amending the charter to whitewash culprits, [or] returns the confiscated money and political rights to a certain group, the country will likely experience political turmoil," he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana said it was likely that amending the charter would take longer than one year. He said that to complete a public referendum alone could take a whole year. The ruling Pheu Thai Party will discuss the matter next Sunday and Monday to gather ideas from all sides.
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