Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Friday, 5 September 2008 15:31 UK

Thailand: What might happen next?

Anti-government protester

Thousands of protesters in Bangkok have besieged Government House, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. They have been there for more than a week, and show no sign of leaving - but neither does Mr Samak.

The BBC looks at some of the possible scenarios for what might happen next.

Mr Samak holds a referendum

The prime minister has said he plans to hold a national referendum to try to defuse the crisis, asking people what they think about the ongoing protests.

But the earliest this could happen is October, because a referendum cannot be held until at least 30 days after being approved by the Senate.

Even if it gets Senate approval, and the protesters - from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - are willing to accept the delay, there is likely to be a lot of disagreement over the wording of the questions and the way the vote is organised.

Even the leader of the Senate has voiced scepticism that a referendum will be able to solve the crisis.

The government backs down

If Mr Samak and his entire cabinet decide to resign, the protesters will have got what they want.

But the prime minister insists he has a legitimate mandate to govern, after winning December's elections, and is unlikely to just give up and go quietly.

Mr Samak calls a snap election

At some point, Mr Samak may decide that events are serious enough to warrant dissolving parliament and calling another poll.

This is unlikely to solve much, though. The bulk of support for Mr Samak and his People's Power Party (PPP) comes from the rural voters who supported former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra before he was ousted in a coup and barred from politics.

These people voted for Mr Samak in December, and are likely to do so again - and if Mr Samak returns to power, the protesters are unlikely to give up their campaign.

They claim Mr Samak is just a proxy for Mr Thaksin - and will not be satisfied until he and his party leave office altogether.

The PAD leaders want a largely appointed body to govern the country instead.

The protesters back down

It seems very unlikely that the protesters will just pack up and go home. They have brought tents, camping equipment and even portaloos to their sit-in at Government House, and show no sign of leaving.

Their resolve has been strengthened as Mr Samak's position has become ever more precarious. As well as the PAD, he is also under pressure from the main opposition party and the top army commanders.

Elsewhere in Thailand, others have joined in the anti-government cause, holding strikes and disrupting transport routes.

The protesters are therefore unlikely to give up their demands completely, but they may end up compromising on their call for the government to be replaced by a largely appointed body.

A spokesman for the PAD said on Wednesday that the group would accept anyone as an interim prime minister as long as Mr Samak went.

Mr Samak's party is dissolved

The Thai Election Commission recently ruled that the PPP committed electoral fraud during December's poll and should be dissolved.

If the PPP is barred from office - as Mr Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party was last year - the opposition Democrat Party is again likely to be the main winner.

But it will probably take months before the Constitutional Court decides whether to accept the Election Commission's recommendation - and the current stalemate is unlikely to last that long.

Mr Samak uses violence

Mr Samak has been linked to a decision to crack down harshly on a group of left-wing student demonstrators in 1976, and analysts initially feared he might do the same thing again.

But he knows that he will lose support and credibility if he orders the military to crack down on the protesters.

And even if he does, there is little chance they will follow orders. Soldiers in Bangkok have already refused to exercise the extra powers Mr Samak gave them when he imposed a state of emergency.

Pro-government supporters join the fray

Pro-government supporters have already clashed with PAD protesters, leaving one person dead and dozens injured.

But they have not yet started sustained protests of their own, as they did two years ago to combat the pro-Thaksin rallies.

This could change, though, if the situation continues.

The military launches a coup

Less than two years ago, the army took over the country after a string of similar protests against Mr Thaksin.

But army chief Anupong Paochinda has ruled out a coup this time, admitting that the last coup failed to solve the underlying issues plaguing Thailand.

The military is very powerful, though, and if tensions escalate, the generals might decide it is in the interests of the country to step in.

The king intervenes

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been on the Thai throne for more than 60 years, is revered across the nation.

He has very limited power under the constitution, but because of the immense respect for him, he can wield decisive influence.

He has intervened in several disputes in the past; one of the most enduring images of his reign is when he ended street violence in 1992 with a few words to the two main rivals, both of them kneeling at his feet.

Mr Samak has already been to see the king since this crisis began, but the conversation between them has not been disclosed.

Some/all of the above

There is no obvious way out of this impasse, and none of the above scenarios is a clear recipe for lasting peace.

Thailand is polarised into two sides - those who ardently support Mr Thaksin and his allies, and those who detest them and refuse to countenance the idea of them in power.

Until a compromise is reached, the rift in Thai society is likely to continue.

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