Thai officials assessing whether to maintain a state of emergency, which business leaders want lifted, deferred their decision yesterday, hours after two people were wounded in a shooting at the site of anti-government protests.
The protests aimed at bringing down Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have been going on for four months and are taking a toll on the economy, with consumer confidence at a 12-year low.
Twenty-three people have been killed, most of them in shootings and grenade blasts, since late November.
The political uncertainty is unnerving consumers and the violence is scaring tourists away from Bangkok. Lower spending is hitting automakers, property firms and hotels in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy.
Thai Hotels Association president Surapong Techruvichit said that the occupancy rate had plunged to 20 to 25 percent in Bangkok in the first two months of the year compared with the same period last year.
The end of the 60-day emergency, imposed in Bangkok on Jan. 22 in a bid to contain the unrest, would be a good start for getting business back on its feet, he said.
“If it’s lifted, I think we can get back the tourists within two weeks to a month,” he said. “It won’t be good just for the hotel industry, but for all business.”
However, National Security Council Secretary-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr said no decision had been reached and the situation would be assessed next week.
“We’ll let our military and police intelligence units consider whether the emergency decree should continue or not,” he told reporters.
The rallies are the latest bout of nearly a decade of political conflict that has set the Bangkok-based royalist establishment against the political machine of Yingluck’s brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The protesters have scaled back action over the past week, lifting the occupation of several main intersections, but several thousand are camping out in Bangkok’s Lumpini Park, where shooting erupted in the early hours.
Police said a taxi driver and a female passer-by were wounded by shots coming from the park.
The military, which has a long record of intervention in politics, has declined to get involved this time and has instead urged the rival sides to talk.
However, soldiers are visible in Bangkok, mainly at bunker-like posts protected with sandbags and camouflage netting.
Yingluck expressed her fear that the intimidating-looking posts could further alarm tourists and as a result some have been decorated with pink flowers in pots.
“We’ve allowed this to soften up the atmosphere,” Major- General Wara Boonyasit said.
Yingluck reiterated yesterday that she has no intention of stepping down and was determined to defend democracy.