Thai protesters seek to block election, baht slumps

Thai protesters seek to block election, baht slumps

BANGKOK - The Thai baht plumbed its lowest level in almost four years on Monday as a political crisis grew more intractable, with anti-government protesters attempting to stop candidates from registering for a February election.

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied across the capital on Sunday as they pressed ahead with their demands that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, resign.

Yingluck remains caretaker premier after calling a snap election for Feb. 2 in a bid to cool tension.

The main opposition party has decided to boycott the vote as it tries to stop her from renewing her mandate and perpetuating the influence of the powerful former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin.

It is an all-too-familiar picture after eight years of deadlock broadly between supporters and opponents of Thaksin, whose populist political machine has won every election since 2001 with widespread support from the rural poor in the north and northeast.

Opposed to Thaksin is the Bangkok-based establishment that backs protests against governments controlled by him.

Critics say Thaksin is a tax-dodging crony capitalist who wins elections with hand-outs, abused his power to enrich his family and friends and even tried to undermine the monarchy.

But to millions of farmers and other rural poor outside Bangkok, Thaksin is a benevolent billionaire who improved their living standards with cheap healthcare and state subsidies.

The seemingly irresolvable conflict hit the currency in Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy after rallies that left the outcome no clearer. The baht touched a low of 32.71 to the US dollar, its weakest level since March 2010, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Satoshi Okagawa, a Singapore-based global markets analyst for Sumitomo Mitsui, said the baht had already been hit by the dollar's strength after the US Federal Reserve decided last week to start trimming its bond-buying programme in January. "There hasn't been any end to the political uncertainty," Okagawa said.

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