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As the world media are reporting, protestors plan to shut down central Bangkok indefinitely on 13th January by blockading critical junctions in the centre of the city.
The current conflict dates back to the end of October when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets against the revised political amnesty bill, which was passed by Thailand’s lower house in a pre-dawn sitting on November 1st.
Critics from various sides attacked the legislation. Some were unhappy that it would allow Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra , the self-exiled relative of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, to return to Thailand without the threat of imprisonment. Others were concerned at the proposed impunity for another former PM, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and ex-Minister Suthep Thaugsuban.
Whilst Prime Minister Yingluck has dissolved parliament and called elections for 2nd February, the delays in doing so allowed the protest movement to gather momentum and the protest leaders now demand her immediate resignation.
In a bid to force the government’s complete collapse, protest leader Suthep has claimed that on 13th January and perhaps beyond, intersections in Bangkok will be shut down. The number of road junctions to be blocked was initially twenty, although only seven spots have been confirmed so far: Lumpini, Asoke-Sukhumvit, Ratchaprasong, Pathumwan, Victory Monument, Lat Phrao and Chaeng Wattana.
Businesses will naturally be apprehensive, especially given that some protests between 2008 and 2010 turned violent – notably in May 2010 when there were arson attacks across the city, including on a large shopping centre.
That said, the stock exchange and the main shopping centres have stated that they will remain open on 13th January, with executives monitoring the situation on a day-by-day basis. The Energy Ministry has informed all commercial traders to prepare for the shutdown by reserving enough oil and gas and to install CCTV cameras in strategic areas. The government has also warned that fuel stations may also be affected.
The Chairman of the Thai Bankers’ Association, Chartsiri Sophonpanich, has stated that each bank already has a contingency plan in place to handle the Monday shutdown and that there are already enough ATMs and cash to meet public demand. In his capacity as President and Director of Bangkok Bank, Mr Chartsiri also said that branches have been permitted to close to protect customers’ and employees’ safety.
Foreign governments have recently published advisories warning their citizens to avoid political rallies in the capital; however, there are no recommendations as yet to stay away from the city.
Monday promises to be a difficult day for those commuting by car as major road arteries will be blocked. Caretaker Transport Minister Chadchart Sittiphan said services by BTS Skytrain, MRT and the Chao Phraya and Khlong Saen Saep express boats will be increased, to help Bangkokians get to work.
Shuttle buses will also be made available to transport commuters to and from interchange stations and special U-turn lanes will be opened up on expressways to buses can make round-trips faster, Mr Chadchart said.
Protest leader Suthep has undertaken to only disrupt regular traffic: "All roads will be taken by people and become walking streets”, he said in a speech on 3rd January. His campaign’s English-language Facebook page stated that the movement will not disrupt public transport, pledged to keep lane open for emergency vehicles and not attempt to block Suvarnabhumi International and Don Muang airports.
The potential economic effect of the shutdown has been perceived by sections of the global media as potentially catastrophic. That remains to be seen, however – Thailand is a developing economy with an on-off track record as a constitutional monarchy since the 1932 overthrow of absolute monarchy. This latest incarnation has only been in place since 2007. Since 1932 there have been 18 coups d’état but throughout the economy has continued to develop and prosper. As pre-eminent emerging markets guru Dr Mark Mobius has pointed out on more than one occasion when he has spoken at events hosted by MBMG in Thailand, the local economy and its politics usually act as if they’re barely acquainted.
We’d suggest the following issues are worth considering:
If you have property or goods insured in Thailand, please contact us so that we may inform of what your policy protects in the event of damage.
If you have medical or life insurance it may be worth checking any relevant exclusions or restrictions.
If you run a business, the usual monthly deadlines of 7th and 15th, for withholding tax and VAT, have been extended to 16th and 23rd January respectively, for December 2013’s payments.
In any case, as a precautionary measure, MBMG is helping clients submit their withholding tax and VAT by this Friday, 10th January. We have also set up a secure system allowing remote access to our accounting software and data so we can support clients in case they need any urgent information.
It may also be worth checking your business interruption, assets and liability coverages to ensure that these are adequate.
There has already been a noticeable impact on many businesses and business sectors from the protests that have occurred during the last 2 months. Any businesses that are suffering or may suffer cash flow issues should contact MBMG’s business planning advisors to look at any ways to attempt to address this.
Both businesses and individuals should note that, notwithstanding Mr. Chartsiri’s reassurances, there may be delays in inbound or outbound money transfers and that in any panic, ATM machines may experience shortages of cash and may not be able to be refilled.
While there is no suggestion of any food or water shortages, it may be prudent to stock up in case it becomes difficult to get around Bangkok or we see hoarding again as occurred in 2010.
While there are no current plans to close international airports, this situation can change quickly and there is the risk of a repeat of the 2008 Airport closure. Even if that doesn’t occur, travel between central Bangkok and the Bangkok airports may prove challenging – Suvarnabhumi Airport director, Raweewan Netarakavesana has advised Bangkok-based passengers to set off 4 hours before their flight departure. --MBMG Group
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