GeoPolitical Forecasts

Forecasts of international political events

Category Archives: Thailand

Thai State of Emergency update

This article from the Economist gives a good summary of the situation in Bangkok. The protesters seem to have lost support withing Thailand’s “deep state”, most importantly the army. The protesters are confining themselves to a single park traditionally used for protests. The need for a SoE seems to be diminishing. However, the government is signaling that it may renew the SoE anyway.

Yingluck has until 14 March to respond to the NACC’s corruption charges. I believe that these are the criminal charges and not the impeachment charges. (News reports aren’t clear, but the procedure the NACC is following seems to be the one for criminal charges.) The criminal charges will take longer for the courts to process than impeachment proceedings. Impeachment proceedings can’t start until April, after the Senate elections on 31 March. So Yingluck will probably still be acting PM by expiration of the current SoE, which means no massive red shirt protests before the current SoE expires. Renewal seems to hinge on whether violence continues at the reduced anti-government protests. There’s nothing strongly indicating renewal or expiration, aside from the government’s statement that it may renew. I’m estimating that the odds of renewing the SoE are about 75%, but with less than average confidence.

Various quick forecasts

I’m going to start with an easy one. Egyptian General Sisi has been promoted to Field Marshal, an empty title given to Egyptian generals who are about to retire. The Supreme Council of the military has given its permission for Sisi to run for president. The recent cabinet reshuffle seems to have left him with fewer job titles, making it easier for him to resign from the interim government. And sources close to Sisi say that he is just waiting for the election law to be finalized before announcing. So I’m forecasting he will officially announce his candidacy before 1 May.

Turkey will not open new chapters of the aquis (the procedure for joining the EU) before 1 May. Cyprus is blocking the two chapters than Turkey wants to open, due to conflict between Cyprus (the government) and Turkey over the partition of Cyprus (the island). Talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriots are underway and could resolve the differences with Turkey, but not before 1 May.

There will be no breakthrough in the TPP talks before 1 May. Domestic politics in the US and Japan will ensure that neither will give ground on Japan’s agricultural tariffs in the immediate future.

Iran will install no new centrifuges before the end of the current agreement with the P5+1. With the exception of a few extreme hardliners and the people associated with Ahmadinejad, most of the hardliners in Tehran support pursuing negotiations.

On the other hand, Iran will not let the IAEA inspect the Parchin military base during the term of the current agreement. In fact, I don’t expect the IEAE to get access in Parchin at all unless it’s negotiated at the political level, i.e. as part of the P5+1 negotiations. Iran considers this to be outside the scope of the IEAE’s charter and won’t negotiate it during the technical negotiations with the IAEA. They’ve given the IAEA access before, the IAEA found no evidence of nuclear weapons research or testing, and Iran considers this to be more of a political issue than a compliance issue. The widely held view that the head of the IAEA is biased towards the US doesn’t improve the odds of an inspection.

Iran will not test a ballistic missile with a range of 2,500 kilometers or greater in the next six months. Iran has missiles that can reach its primary military targets, but there’s a low chance that they would actually strike their targets. Iran’s primary focus right now is developing missiles with reasonable accuracy and the ability to evade missile defenses. It is close to developing 2,500 km missiles , but that’s not a top priority right now.

Yanukovych will eventually be tried before the International Criminal Court, as Ukraine’s parliament has requested. Ukraine’s constitution spells out an impeachment process that involves the Constitutional Court, with is packed with Yanukovych’s people. If the new government replaces the judges, the new judges will be perceived as biased against Yanukovych. The ICC is the best bet for an impartial trial, something any new government will need to compensate for the fact that Yanukovych’s removal from office was unconstitutional. Yanukovych is being accused of mass murder, which is something the ICC handles. The surprisingly orderly nature of the revolution in Kiev means that a lot of evidence has been preserved.

The loan agreement between Russia and Ukraine is dead. Russia won’t be buying any more Ukrainian government bonds. The loan agreement was always a means to pull Ukraine into Putin’s proposed customs union. The new government is determined to pursue closer ties with the EU. Russia still has more leverage over Ukraine than any other country, due to trade ties and gas supplies. Ukraine desperately needs the money, but Putin gains no leverage by making the loans and loses no leverage if he doesn’t make them.

I’m still expecting the Thai government to renew the State of Emergency, but I’m less sure of it. The Thai courts have placed restrictions on the powers that the government can exercise under an SoE, which makes it less useful for the government. The government’s primary goal is to carry out by-elections in order to elect enough parliament members to make a quorum and form a new government. Even with the current SoE, the government hasn’t been able to do that, and the Election Commission has delayed new elections, possible beyond the limit of a renewed SoE. Still, the situation certainly justifies a SoE, and I think the government will want whatever powers the courts will allow it to exercise, and will renew the SoE.

If the corruption case against the Thai prime minister causes her to be removed from power, the UDD/red shirts will view it as a coup and will hit the streets in enough numbers to raise the level of crisis considerably, which would increase the odds of a renewed SoE.

Will Thailand renew its State of Emergency?

Will the Thai government renew its sixty day State of Emergency before it expires?

The question really has two parts: will Yingluck renew the SoE if she is in power, and will her replacement renew the SoE if she is not in power?

Losing power is a very real possibility for Yingluck. There are corruption probes underway against her at the National Anti-Corruption Commission and a petition for impeachment against her with the Thai Senate. In addition, the Democrat party has filed a petition with the Constitutional Court to have Yingluck’s Puea Thai party disbanded.[1]

According to Vicha Mahakun, a member of the NACC’s probe panel, if the NACC determines that Yingluck is guilty of corruption, the case goes to the courts. Yingluck will have to stop working as prime minister but she will legally remain the PM until the courts find her guilty.[2] Under a parliamentary system, she can only be PM if her party remains in power, which means that another PT party member will have to step in as acting PM until the court reaches a verdict.

Vicha Mahakun suggests that impeachment before the Senate would reach a conclusion before a court case.[2] Just under half of the Thai Senate is appointed by the Senate Selection Committee, which is made up of people appointed by the king.[3] Add in the elected Senators who are royalist, and you’ve got a royalist majority that’s very likely to vote against Yingluck.

Yingluck remains PM only as long as her party is in power. If her party is disbanded, a new PM must be named to replace her. Article 7 of the current constitution states “it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional convention in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.” What that means exactly is subject to debate.[4] However, in the 2011 elections, the PT party got 265 seats while the Democrat party got 159 (out of 500).[5] The Democrat party seems to be the obvious candidate to head a new interim government if the PT party no longer exists.

An interesting point is that while Yingluck has declared a State of Emergency, she hasn’t done anything with the powers a SoE givers her. While the police are widely considered PT party supporters[6], judges are appointed by the king[7], and the courts are royalist and pro-Democrat party. Two previous incarnations of the PT party have been dissolved by the courts[8]. Police actions that result in violence are likely to go badly for the government in the courts. The government is therefore holding its emergency powers in reserve. As long as the anti-government protesters continue to disrupt elections, the government will want to ensure it has as much legal flexibility as possible, but actual use of its expanded police powers is likely to bring mixed results.

So we have three possible scenarios when the SoE comes up for renewal. The first is that Yingluck is still in power, the second is that another PT member is acting PM while she defends herself against NACC charges, and the third is that she has been removed from power, either through impeachment or by dissolution of the PT party.

It’s pretty clear that Yingluck intends to continue the electoral process until the lower house of parliament has a quorum. Before the election, candidates were unable to register in 28 of the country’s 500 voting districts, making a quorum impossible. (A quorum requires 475 members.[5]) The government held the elections anyway, knowing that the by-elections necessary to bring the lower house up to a quorum are likely to take a few months. The government will want to maintain its expanded police power during that period. So it will most likely extend the SoE.

The government’s policy won’t change under an acting PM. As long as the PT party is in power, it will continue working towards a quorum and will want to maintain the SoE.

If Yingluck is removed from power, the UDD (aka red shirts) will consider it to be a coup. So far, the UDD has been avoiding confrontations that might lead to violence.[9] However, it is prepared to resist any coup, military or otherwise. Even the military would have trouble asserting control in large parts of the country[6], and a civilian government certainly wouldn’t find it any easier. So in the event that either Yingluck is removed from power and is replaced by a Democrat lead government, the new government would probably not only renew the SoE, but would be forced to extend it across the whole country.


Addendum to Thai elections

The Monkey Cage (the blog) has a post on election violence. Some quotes:

Leaders are more likely to crack down when they think an election might unseat them (or their party) from power and they face few constraints on their authority and so have reason to believe they can get away with violence.


When judiciaries become more independent of the executive office, or when other checks on government power develop, election violence becomes less likely even when a leader or party’s position in power is seriously threatened.

Thailand has two governments: the unelected government centered around the king’s ability to make appointments, and the mostly elected government headed by Yingluck. (Just under half of the Senate is appointed by a committee made up of the king’s appointees. The remainder of the Senate and the House of Representatives is elected.) The behavior of the two governments leading up the the election follows the pattern described by Emilie M. Hafner-Burton and Susan D. Hyde in the their Monkey Cage post.

Hafner-Burton and Susan D. Hyde specifically mention the importance of independent courts. In Thailand judges are appointed by the king. Suthep Thaugsuban, Democratic party member and protest leader, has been indicted for sedition. Since he’s trying to overthrow an elected government, that’s perfectly reasonable. He’s also been indicted for giving orders as a member of a previous government that led to the deaths of around ninety red shirt protesters. Assuming that there’s evidence to support the indictment, that’s not unreasonable. Yingluck Shinawatra has a case against her in the courts for her government’s rice subsidy scheme. Granted that the scheme is horrible policy, this is still making it a crime for a government to create policy. And hundreds of her party’s parliament members are being tried for voting for a law that would have eliminated the appointment of Senators and made it entirely elected. (The law passed but was declared unconstitutional.) This is essentially criminalizing parliamentary voting.

The Thai courts are part of the unelected government. In spite of the serious charges against him, Suthep has not been arrested and police presence around the protests has been minimal. The protesters have been able to block intersections in Bangkok, forcefully bar would-be candidates from registering, lock voting areas and prevent voters from voting, and interfere with the distribution of ballots. They have driven the government out of its offices. They’ve been able to use illegal means to prevent the government from carrying out legally mandated activities. And the government has not tried to stop them.

I don’t believe that Yingluck has been so restrained out of the kindness of her heart. Even though she’s the head of an elected government, her government is, in effect, the opposition to an unelected government reluctant to relinquish power. While she has control of the police, the courts would almost certainly penalize her if she used them too freely. On the other hand, the protesters aren’t terribly concerned about the courts and Suthep continues to move around Bangkok.

So politics in Thailand at the moment consists of an elected government faced with severe constraints in conflict with an unelected government with fewer constraints. The unelected government’s power is being threatened and it can get away with a higher level of force. The elected government has to be more restrained.

One final quote:

…election violence may be a symptom of a threatened and potentially weakening incumbent government rather than a sign that democratization – and future protection for human rights – is doomed.

The violence around the election may not be so much a sign that Thailand is falling into chaos, as it is a sign that a group of people who have been accustomed to exercising a large amount of power find themselves weakened and their hold on power threatened.

Thai elections on Feb 2

Will Thailand hold elections on February 2?

Events have overtaken this forecast. More accurately, I’m too slow. When I started researching the question, most commentary seemed to suggest that elections wouldn’t take place. It quickly became obvious to me that they would, for the simple reason that Yingluck Shinawatra would gain nothing from delaying them. However, I don’t know a lot about Thailand, so I continued looking for information on things that would cause her to delay the elections. Between that and the various other things in life that have to be taken care of, I’m finally posting and it’s the day before the elections. Actually, in Thailand, it is the day of the elections. So this isn’t much of a forecast. Still, I think it’s worthwhile to post the information I’m working with and my analysis and see what response I get. The contents of my Thai election file follow.


A bit of background: The north of Thailand is poor and contains a third of the country’s voters. They’ve been ignored by Thailand’s political elite since the country started electing democratic governments in the 1930s. A rich business man named Thaksin Shinawatra formed a political party that courted northern votes and won every general election since 2001. Thaksin left Thailand to avoid prosecution for corruption and his party is currently lead by his sister Yingluck, who is now Prime Minister. Her government is opposed by the Democratic party, which has not won a general election in twenty years. The government introduced a bill into Parliament to allow Thaksin Shinawatra back into the country. A few members of the Democratic party organized the current protests in response. These protests forced Yingluck to dissolve Parliament and call new elections on 2 Feb. The protesters and the Democratic party are opposed to holding elections because they will lose. Instead, they want an appointed “peoples’ council” to rewrite the constitution. In addition, they want to ban the entire Shinawatra family from politics.


1) Yingluck Shinawatra
* Prime Minister.
* Member of Pheu Thai political party.
* Sister of Thaksin Shinawatra (founder of Pheu Tai political party).
* Allied with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD, aka the red shirts).

For purposes of forecasting, Thaksin, the PT party, the current government, and the UDD can be represented by the person of Yingluck. Without buying into the accusation that she is Thaksin’s puppet, it’s clear that they communicate extensively and she is the public face of decisions that they make together. Even though Thaksin is in exile, the PT party is his creation and he’s the actual party head, even if he isn’t listed in the official hierarchy. As the current Prime Minister, Yingluck is very influential in the party. The nominal head of the party is probably a distant third behind the Shinawatras in terms of power.

The UDD opposed the PT bill to grant amnesty to Thaksin because the PT tried to sweeten it by also offering amnesty to the opposition leaders being investigated for the murder of UDD protesters in previous protests. Clearly the UDD maintains some independence from the Shinawatras. It is less willing than Yingluck to compromise in order to bring Thaksin back from exile. But as far as the election is concerned, the UDD is backing Yingluck in both goals and tactics.

2) Suthep Thaugsuban
* Leader of PDRC (protesters)
* Member of Democratic party
* Previous Deputy Prime Minister in an unelected Democratic government.

The government has indicted Suthep for the murder of red shirt protesters, due to his decisions as a member of the government during previous UDD protests. He has also been indicted for what is variously translated into English as rebellion, insurrection, sedition, and treason. That’s a capital crime, but he’s unlikely to hang. The Thais don’t execute criminals very often, and there’s a long tradition of pardoning royalist coup plotters. The police obviously know where to find him and haven’t made any move to arrest him.

Suthep is the leader of the PDRC, the group organizing the protests. As far as the elections go, he also represents the opposition Democratic party, and the political establishment. (I’m not going to use the word “elite” because the opposition is more varied than that.) The political establishment includes the judiciary and the government bureaucracy, along with the Election Commission. Military officers tend to be royalist, so there’s probably a lot of support for Suthep in the officer corps, even if the military is publicly refusing to take sides. Suthep’s leadership is somewhat nebulous. All of these groups agree on the goal of canceling elections and their distaste for the Shinawatras, but they don’t necessarily agree on tactics. Suthep is the current leader of this block by virtue of his leadership of active protests and his visibility. Unlike Yingluck, he’s not irreplaceable. If the various parts of the establishment decide for a change in tactics, another leader will be pushed to the front. For many Yingluck opponents, support for Suthep is less a matter of following his leadership than it is a matter of allowing him to carry on as long as they see some advantage. For others, the illness of the king and the resulting inability of the political establishment to adjust to political change makes Suthep’s intransigence the only available option.

The PDRC protests look good on TV, and it’s been estimated that a fifth of the Bangkok population is involved. Participation comes from all classes. However, for most, participation involves stopping by the protests after work and blowing whistles.

Nonetheless, Suthep is currently the public face of dissatisfaction with PT government. He’s disrupted candidate registration and advance voting, and will disrupt voting on voting day. Apparently, this will be enough to take advantage of provisions in the Thai constitution requiring a quorum in the lower house of Parliament and deprive Yingluck of the chance to quickly form a new government.

3) Bhumibol Adulyadej
* King of Thailand.
* Appoints top military leaders and most top bureaucrats.
* Appoints members of the Election Commission.

The king is old, sick, and possibly dying. Thailand’s laws make impossible for Thais to talk about this publicly, so no one knows how sick he is. Four years ago, an article in the Economist quoted Thai fund managers concerned about “a change that cannot be mentioned.” Four years later, the change still cannot be mentioned, and it’s still expected at any time. However, while the king is 86, his closest adviser is 93, and another long time source of support, the head of the Thai Buddhist clergy, recently died at 100. So the king’s incapacity, and the problems that go with it, could drag on for many more years.

The king’s power to make appointments puts him at the center of a system of patronage that extends into the army and the bureaucracy and shares power with the elected government. His illness leaves this system without clear direction. The crown prince, who may become king at any time, was a close friend of Thaksin. He may have renewed that friendship recently. Fear of a pro-Thaksin king is at least part of the reason that the political establishment is willing to overthrow a government in order to eliminate the Shinawatras from politics. Without guidance from the king, the system can’t adapt to change. Suthep’s intransigence seems like a solution to the problem of the sudden arrival of a new political power that threatens to overwhelm the established network centered around the king.

4) Army
* Carried out 18 coups (not all successful) since the 1930s.
* 10 of those coups occurred during the reign of the current king.

Under Bhumibol’s reign, threats to the political establishment were handled with military coups. The army would stage a coup, the generals would go visit the king and receive a pardon, the army would eventually yield to a civilian government that was more compliant, and cycle would repeat at the next threat of unacceptable change.

That no longer works. The immediate threat to the royal system is Yingluck and the various people she represents. If the army stages a coup and the king finally dies, the new king may be pro-Thaksin and the coup leaders may have the rug pulled out from under them. Furthermore, the army is not as united as it once was. The old class system that bound the officer corps together is breaking down. In addition, there’s the problem of the “watermelons”; green (army uniform) on the outside, but red (pro-Thaksin) on the inside. The top leadership is royalist and pro-Suthep, but there’s enough Thaksin support that no one can be sure that the army would remain unified during a coup. During the last coup, the UDD was getting advance warning from within the army of military operations. This time, there’s a chance that an attempted coup would see some soldiers actively supporting the government.

5) Election Commission
* Administrator of Thailand’s elections.
* Arbiter of Thailand’s election laws.

The election commissioners are all appointed by the king, acting on the advice of the Senate. 73 members of the Senate (out of 150) are selected by the Senators Selection Committee. The Senators Selection Committee consists of the chairman of the Election Commission and various members of the judiciary, all appointed by the king. So the king appoints the election commissioners with the advice of people selected by the king’s appointees. The individual commissioners seem to be competent and seem to want to do their jobs well, but in a conflict that pits Yingluck’s government against a largely royalist political establishment, of which the Election Commission is clearly part, the commissioners cannot be considered entirely impartial.

Policy position

Nominally, the issue is whether to hold elections on 2 Feb. In order of their support for elections:
Yingluck > Election Commission > Bhumibol = Army > Suthep

Yingluck is strongly in favor of holding elections. Everyone else is opposed to one degree or another. The Election Commission doesn’t want to hold elections, but wants to carry out its duties competently. The king is probably aligned with the army. The army brass privately supports Suthep. Suthep is strongly opposed to holding elections.


Bhumibol> Army > Yingluck > Suthep > Election Commission

The king appoints the army’s leaders and the country’s top bureaucrats, giving him a tremendous amount of influence with unelected power figures. The army is 250,000 people with guns and a history of coups. They can stop the election and impose a government of their choice. As Prime Minister, Yingluck is at the top of the elected government. Suthep leads the protesters, but his influence is mostly limited to his power to create disorder. His goal is not to force Yingluck to negotiate, but to prompt the army to overthrow the government in order to restore order. The Election Commission is required by law to comply with the prime minister. The most it can do, in opposition to Yingluck, is issue public warnings about the risk of violence if an election occurs.

Importance of the issue to the actor

Yingluck = Suthep > Election Commission > Army > Bhumibol

Suthep is trying to overthrow a democratically elected government by non-democratic means. If he fails, the system he represents will lose a lot of influence and he may be tried for treason. Yingluck is fighting for her political life, her brother’s return from exile, her family’s survival in politics, her party’s continued existence, and the interests of her political base. The Election Commission’s job is holding elections. Unlike Yingluck, Suthep, and the Election Commission, the army can sit this out. The king is sick enough that his illness may prevent him from following events as closely as the other actors.

Election Commission > Bhumibol = Army > Yingluck > Suthep
The Election Commission is opposed to holding elections on 2 Feb, but is under pressure from the government to hold them anyway, and can only postpone them in cooperation with the government. Publicly, it’s been going back and forth. The king is too sick to get actively involved, and the army is more divided that it was in the past. Both will accept an outcome they consider less than ideal for the sake of maintaining order. Yingluck has shown some flexibility in trying to deal with Suthep and the protests. Suthep has shown no flexibility at all.


The Army

The military will not stage a coup. In the event of an anti-Thaksin coup followed by the death of the king, the leaders could end up having to answer to a new pro-Thaksin king. In addition, the military is divided over the political situation. Some units of the army may not obey the commands of coup leaders. Thaksin supporters in the army will be feeding information to Yingluck’s government and the UDD. And the UDD will resist a coup. Even without violence, they can make post-coup government very difficult for the army. The military’s top brass may lose their jobs under a new king, but not under a new government. The military’s instutional interests aren’t threatened by Yingluck’s government. Given the riskiness of a coup and the lack of immediate negative consequences from a Yingluck victory, the military will stay neutral, aside perhaps from assisting the police in maintaining order.

The King

Bhumibol is too ill to get involved.

The Election Commission

The commission is legally obligated to carry out elections. A decision by the Constitutional Court allows the commission to postpone an election in cooperation with the prime minister, but not by acting on its own. The royally appointed commissioners are seen by Yingluck’s government as part of the royalist opposition, and its efforts to postpone the election part of the oppositions attempts to remove Yingluck from power. Therefore they can’t persuade Yingluck to agree to a postponement, and they will be compelled to hold elections on 2 Feb.

Suthep Thaugsuban

Attendance at the protests has been declining. It’s becoming clearer to the old establishment that Suthep’s protests aren’t going to eliminate the Shinawatras and his refusal to negotiate eliminates the possibility of gaining anything else from the situation. His power peaked in the first half of January. His followers will be able to partially disrupt the elections and there will be some violence. His success in preventing some districts from electing parliament members means that by elections will have to be held in the first couple of months after the 2 Feb elections. His declining influence means that enough of these will be successful that Yingluck will eventually be able to form a government, with the establishment Suthep represents considerably weakened. In the absence of a capable king, there’s no obvious candidate for an opposition leader with the authority to negotiate a new political regime with the Shinawatras. It will take time for the establishment to replace the king’s patronage with new institutions and find new ways of selecting leaders.

Yingluck Shinawatra

So far, after the miscalculation of the amnesty bill, Yingluck has done everything right. I’m predicting that she’ll be able to keep that up and eventually form a new government. She and Thaksin realized that in the absence of an effective king, the current laws give the advantage to whoever has elected power. She loses that advantage if she resigns and governing power passes back to the king’s appointees. The Shinawatras will be eliminated from politics if yet another group of royal appointees creates yet another constitution. She will do everything possible to stay in office, and the odds are that she will succeed.

Prediction Killers

These that the things that I’m aware of that could cause my predictions to be wrong.

The Army

If there’s enough violence, the army could feel compelled to step in and restore order. There’s been some talk of moving the capital either to the north or to the south, or creating separate governments. So far, no one has taken the suggestions seriously. But if some one did get serious and the army felt that Thailand’s existence as a unified country were threatened, it would act. If the king died in the next few weeks and the new king was less pro-Thaksin than feared, the army might feel less constrained about carrying out a coup.

The King

Since no one is allowed to talk about the king’s illness, no one knows for sure how serious it is or what form it takes. It’s possible that the king could have a temporary recovery and start negotiations with Yingluck, or at least authorize others to negotiate with her.

Suthep Thaugsuban

Suthep’s followers could create enough violence to draw in the army. They could remain numerous and active enough to disrupt enough elections to prevent a parliamentary quorum, preventing Yingluck from forming a new government.

Yingluck Shinawatra

Yingluck could miscalculate at any time and use the police in ways that incite the protesters to more violence, or that re-energize them and cause them to return to the streets in numbers that match early January. The rice-subsidy case currently being handled by the courts could result in her being banned from politics. The government hasn’t been able to borrow the money it needs to pay rice farmers for rice pledged under the rice sudsidy scheme, and farmers have been blocking highways in protest. If this continues, it could cost her support in the north and undermine her ability to maintain her caretaker government until there’s enough members elected to the parliament to form a new government.