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Briefing: Why Thai protesters are taking to the streets again

Antigovernment activists plan to defy a tough security law to rally Saturday on the third anniversary of a military coup.

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The PAD has organized its own, smaller protest Saturday – hundreds of miles from Bangkok on the disputed Thai-Cambodia border. The PAD accuses Cambodia of usurping Thai territory around a temple, an issue it also used last year to stir up nationalist sentiments against the pro-Thaksin government.

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How strong is the current prime minister?

A UK-educated economist, Abhisit has support from influential business groups that have applauded his government's ability to ramp up spending in a weak economy. After facing down the protests in April with minimal bloodshed, Abhisit got a boost in the polls.

But his six-party coalition is beset by infighting and minor scandals. In recent weeks, he has struggled to assert his authority over the selection of a new police chief, exposing his weak hand. Analysts say Abhisit needs a proper electoral mandate to shore up his political capital.

An election is risky, though, as long as pro-Thaksin parties hold sway over the populous north and northeast. Minor coalition parties also want to stay in power long enough to benefit from stimulus spending that can be diverted into campaign funds.

"Nobody wants elections. So they [the coalition] are handcuffed together, even if they don't like each other," says Paul Quaglia, director of PSA Asia, a security consultancy in Bangkok.

Where do the military and the monarchy stand?

The military supports Abhisit. But its loyalty can't be counted on. There are also splits within the military over how to deal with Thaksin, whom they deposed in 2006 on the grounds of corruption, abuse of power, and offenses to the monarchy.

The military remains the power behind the government. Last year, it defied an elected government by refusing to disperse the PAD protests at the airports. Military chiefs called publicly for the prime minister to resign.

Analysts say civilian rule has been severely weakened by the coup and subsequent events. The officer corps still believes that it knows best when it comes to running Thailand, says Chris Baker, a historian in Bangkok. "The Army never really adapted to a nonpolitical role," he says.

The crown remains the linchpin of Thai politics. The frailty of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-serving monarch, has intensified the struggle for power, as his designated successor, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, lacks his stature and experience.

Some red shirts are dismissive of the monarchy and its meddling in politics, though strict defamation laws prevent public debate. Senior royals were believed to have backed the PAD.

How is this affecting the economy and tourism?

The economy is shrinking but is expected to show a recovery by year-end, in line with other export-led Asian economies. The official estimate is a contraction of between 2.5 and 3.5 percent.

Government spending is fueling the recovery, but private investment remains weak. However, Thailand's banks and large companies remain solvent as their balance sheets are relatively conservative.

Tourism has taken a severe hit from the global slowdown, H1N1 flu, and fears over security for travelers, particularly in Bangkok. Many luxury hotels in the capital are running at below 50 percent occupancy. Overall visitor numbers dropped by around 20 percent in the first six months of the year.

Last year tourism was worth around $17 billion, or 6 percent of GDP. It also employs millions of people, many in small businesses that are the lifeblood of the Thai economy.

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