Thai Tensions Rise, Economy Uncertain as Power Struggle Intensifies
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Thailand is heading for a political showdown, with anti-government protesters aiming to sabotage an election by shutting down Bangkok next week, deepening a crisis that has divided the country and looks set to squeeze economic growth this year.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra faces swelling opposition in Bangkok ahead of the February 2 election in which her supporters in the rural north and northeast are expected to return her to power - if the vote can go ahead.
Thousands of demonstrators marched through Bangkok on Sunday as a prelude to rallies starting on January 13, when they plan to block government offices and occupy key intersections for days in a bid to force out Yingluck and scuttle the poll.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a puppet of her self-exiled brother and former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, a man they say is a corrupt crony capitalist who used taxpayers' money to buy his electoral support with populist giveaways.
They want an appointed "people's council" to oversee a vague reform platform, which includes electoral changes and decentralizing power over a 12-month period before any election.
Commerce Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan said on Monday 2014 growth could be 3.0 percent to 3.5 percent if the protests continued, mainly due to a delay to $65 billion worth of infrastructure spending, which the government had hoped would offset sagging exports worth about 60 percent of the economy.
The government had forecast GDP growth of 4.0 percent to 5.0 percent this year. On December 26 the finance ministry forecast 3.5 percent if the political deadlock continued.
Thai markets are expected to face pressure over the growing uncertainty. The baht hit another four-year low against the dollar on Monday, and the benchmark stock index fell to its lowest since August 2012 during early trade.
It closed up 0.5 percent, helped by late buying in some battered big-caps. The index has lost 15 percent since early November, when the latest crisis began, Reuters reported.
Yingluck, 46, is refusing to postpone the poll, which she says would be unconstitutional. Any election delay could heighten the uncertainty and make it harder for her caretaker government to function.
On Monday, she urged protesters to consider the economy.