Tent city in Lumpini Park, Bangkok. (Flickr/Earthworm.)
Bangkok's streets were quiet yesterday following the Constitutional Court's widely expected dismissal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for an abuse of power. In 2011 she appointed a figure linked to her family as secretary-general of the National Security Council.
From an outside observer's point of view, the decision appears to reinforce the view that the court's sympathies lie with those who oppose the Red Shirt movement generally and the Shinawatra family in particular. As Thomas Fuller commented in the New York Times, the decision 'highlights (the court's) overtly political role'.
But the court's ruling, which also included the dismissal of nine other members of Yingluck's government, still leaves other cabinet members in place to form a continuing caretaker government in the lead-up to fresh elections due in July.
Reactions to Yingluck's dismissal have been predictable. Leader of the anti-Yingluck protest moevement Suthep Thaugsuban claims the court's decision represents the final blow against her Pheu Thai party, but then he has been making similar claims for some months. Whether he can translate his claims into actions beyond yet another protest march remains uncertain and there seemed to be little activity among his supporters in the camp they have established in Lumpini Park when I visited yesterday afternoon.
Pheu Thai representatives have, of course, condemned the decision and called for a Red Shirt demonstration tomorrow. Large numbers of Red Shirt suppporters are assembled on the edges of Bangkok.
Former Democrat Party prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has over the last week offered suggestions for some form of compromise, but these have effectively called for a solution that would ignore the reality of Pheu Thai's continuing record of winning elections decisively.
The limited number of Thai observers I have been able to speak to during my short visit to Bangkok have been cautiously optimisitic that violence can be avoided, given the unhappy memories of the more than ninety deaths that occurred in 2010. Views from legal academics seem divided, with some condemning the court's decision as a judicial coup while others hail it as a wise decision, since it leaves a rump caretaker government in place.
Unsurprisingly, there has been speculation about possible action by the army, which so far has kept to the barracks despite some expectations that it would step in to resolve the stalemate. Every indication is that the army looks back on its coup in 2006 with some misgivings, as it found it could not control events after it had stepped into the political arena. Above all, there is no indication that long-retired general and privy counsellor Prem Tinsulanonda is ready to play the puppet-master role that he did on that occasion. If there was a descent into widespread violence this would without question change the equation for the army, but that point has not yet been reached.
To date, with only limited violence having occurred in the course of the stalemate, the economy has not suffered greatly, though tourist numbers are down and there are increasing calls from the private sector for an end to the political standoff.