The pro-business government of Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan confronts one of its most serious challenges in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence opening today.
It is the first time since 1947 that the entire cabinet will face a grilling by opposition members.Opponents are expected to launch broadsides against most of the 44-strong Council of Ministers, alleging inefficiency and official malfeasance.
Their hope is to bring down the 22-month coalition, though most analysts believe a reshuffle of some ministers is more likely after the vote, expected Friday or Saturday.
Little change is expected in economic policy since "both sides agree the economy should continue basically as it is," said Pipat Thaiaree, an academic.
But the political fallout from a reshuffle would take weeks to sort out, possibly delaying ministerial decisions that bear on foreign investment.
The government's sweeping program for privatizing state enterprises has already encountered many delays because of labor and state-management resistance. This was particularly notable in the maritime sector.
Heightened political uncertainty could lead to more delays, for example, in implementing a recent decision to allow foreign banks to operate in Thailand. Moves to tighten copyright and similar protection, a key demand of the United States, might also falter.
Tensions bubbled up in mid-June when the former army commander, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, quit his cabinet job after only two and a half months.
While Thailand is a parliamentary democracy, everyone here knows no government can survive without the tacit backing of the military. Fears of a coup, though, came to nothing, despite some posturing by armed forces units.
While nerves have largely settled, concern is still evident in the stock market.
"There are plenty of rumors that have caused investors to be more cautious," one broker told The Journal of Commerce. "Most people are quite confident of the prime minister's ability to handle things," he added Tuesday.
The sweeping reach of the no-confidence motion could be seen as a reflection of widespread dissatisfaction with the administration, which is presiding over extraordinary growth and investment.
Most analysts, however, see few differences among the plethora of parties in Parliament.