Is political violence in Thailand set to spiral?

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for CNBC.com
A Thai forsenic police officer points in the direction of where gun shots were fired at the site of a grenade and gun shots attack at Democracy monument in Bangkok Thursday.
Nicolas Asfouri | AFP | Getty Images

Thailand's already tense political situation may be poised to worsen, with some analysts saying Thursday's grenade and gun attack may be just the start of a pattern of violence.

"People are almost bracing themselves," said Paul Gambles, managing partner at MBMG International, a personal and corporate advisory. "People are expecting there are going to be a lot more situations to come," he said, noting leaders of the pro-government "Red Shirts" and the anti-government street protestors have been ramping up rhetoric.

The grenade and gun attack on an anti-government protest camp in Bangkok Thursday killed at least three and injured at least 21 people.

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Gambles said the Visakha Bucha holiday, often informally referred to as Buddha's Birthday, earlier in the week was likely the reason the violence didn't begin sooner.

The violence is just the latest turn in the country's continuing political deadlock.

Following months of political turmoil, Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled to remove Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra last week, along with nine other cabinet ministers. Yingluck was found guilty of abuse of power related to the removal of Thawil Pliensri from the post of National Security Council secretary general in 2011.

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In an emergency meeting following the ruling, deputy prime minister and commerce minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan was given the role of acting prime minister.

Last week, the anti-corruption commission also found Yingluck guilty of negligence over a rice subsidy program which resulted in large losses for the government, and she faces a possible ban from politics.

Others also expect the attack Thursday is just the beginning of a cycle.

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"These are pinprick attacks," said Amarjit Singh, senior analyst for country risk at consultancy IHS, adding he'd been expecting this since Yingluck was removed from office. "These kinds of attacks are meant to scare protestors and keep them from coming out to the streets, keeping the political situation (and) people on edge, but not boiling over," he said.

"We've seen this before. It isn't a game changer," he said, adding he doesn't believe the scale of the violence is large enough to spur the military to intervene.

"The military intervention won't achieve anything, which is why I think the military isn't keen to get involved unless the situation in Bangkok changes or the level of violence ramps up," Singh said. "It's a political problem between the pro-Thaksin party, the opposition Democrat party and the PDRC and they are divided on whether they have reforms before or after the election and those positions haven't changed over the past few months."

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The PDRC, or People's Democratic Reform Committee, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, has been the driving force behind many of the street protests in Bangkok. It advocates appointing an unelected interim government to push through reforms before the country is allowed to return to democracy.

The Bangkok Post reported Thursday that Suthep has asked the heads of government offices to report to his party and take over the government if the Senate doesn't form an interim government by Monday.

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The latest push for elections appears to have failed, with the election commission Thursday saying it wasn't possible to hold the elections on July 20, as was expected. It isn't clear when elections might be held.

Anti-government protesters forced the acting prime minister to flee a meeting with the election committee Thursday.

In any case, few expect the election would resolve the political deadlock.

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"You're holding elections while each side has a strong grievance against the other," Gambles said. "It's like playing football. The winner will accept the result. The loser won't."

Although Yingluck's party has been losing popularity amid the political turmoil, it is still widely expected to win a decisive majority in any election.

Another factor that could keep the country's politics in the mire: the current caretaker prime minister previously managed the rice subsidy program and could also face removal from office.

"It could be a situation where caretaker prime ministers are constantly changing until there's no one in the caretaker government left," Gambles said. "There's no obvious end in sight."

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter