With Thailand’s parliament set to convene on Monday to find a way out of a political crisis fueled by road protests, one object is fitting lucid: There is not any easy solution for the military-backed government.
Protesters calling for democratic reforms and changes to the monarchy were undeterred by an emergency decree prohibiting large gatherings, prompting Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha to lift it and call for calm. That was once met with fresh calls for his resignation and even more protests.
Now the military and royalist elite who have long held power in Thailand should make a decision if to meet some or all protest demands, or take more aggressive steps to close down the demonstrations.
Here are imaginable scenarios for where things go from here:
1. Slow-Walking Reform
One key demand is a new charter to replace the one drafted after a 2014 coup led by Prayuth. Its provision for a military-appointed Senate has been instrumental in helping him keep power following final year’s election.
Prayuth’s government has already said it’s open to sure unspecified changes, and prior to Monday’s special parliamentary session it already initiated a process to start amending the charter. Still, that process could end up taking years, and it wouldn’t be the first time: Following the bloody ‘Black May’ rebellion against military rule in 1992, it took five years before a new charter was once put in place. And that was once nullified in a coup less than a decade later.
Also Read | Thailand braces for more rallies as Prime Minister ignores calls to quit
“The regime could be having a look at the same more or less tactics this time around,” said Kevin Hewison, an emeritus professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has researched Thai politics for decades. They could “drag it out for so long, but eventually don’t make many changes at all.”
2. Prayuth’s Ouster
Calls for Prayuth’s resignation have persisted since final year’s election. While he has so far refused to step down, his rule is contingent on the toughen of the monarchy and other elites in Bangkok. Whether protests were to garner wider toughen from the general population, his ouster could also be one of the simplest ways to take a look at and soothe tensions.
Prayuth’s future is now firmly tied to the challenges to the monarchy, said Lee Morgenbesser, a lecturer at Australia’s Griffith University whose research makes a speciality of authoritarian regimes and Southeast Asian politics. “Whether the protests persist too long or develop into violent, which would see the prestige of the king further questioned, the Thai government is an apparent sacrificial lamb.”
Having already survived a no-confidence vote in February, the government isn’t likely to face much pressure in parliament. Still, even supposing Prayuth were to step aside, he could just be replaced by someone else backed by the military.
3. Violent Crackdown
Past protest movements in Thailand have ceaselessly ended in bloody crackdowns, most recently in 2010. With groups of royalists organizing to confront the pro-democracy demonstrators, there are concerns they could happen again in the future — even supposing the threat isn’t imminent.
“There can at all times be a violent crackdown,” said Paul Chambers, a Thai politics expert at Naresuan University’s College of Asean Community Studies, adding that this kind of move could backfire on authorities. The government would “do so only because it is desperate for the survival of military and royal privileges unreformed.”
4. Monarchy Changes
After breaking long-held taboos approximately publicly criticizing the royal circle of relatives, protesters are demanding the monarch no longer endorse coups, supply transparency in managing billions of dollars worth of crown assets, and do away with defamation laws that stifle discussion of the royal circle of relatives.
Any of those changes would require approval from King Maha Vajiralongkorn, which analysts say is a long shot.
“Royal abdication, scaled back authority for the crown are highly unlikely anytime soon,” said Chambers. “Finally, Thailand’s military, political and economic elites ascribe their legitimacy to shut linkages to the palace. A weakening of palace power weakens the power of all of Thailand’s vested power players.”