Thai PM calls snap election, protesters press on
BANGKOK - Reuters
Demonstrators march towards the government building in Bangkok on Dec 9, 2013. AFP PHOTOThai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament Dec. 9 and called a snap election, but anti-government protest leaders pressed ahead with mass demonstrations in Bangkok seeking to install an unelected body to run the country.
Police estimated that about 150,000 protesters were converging on Yingluck's office at Government House, extending a rally that had descended into violence before pausing late last week out of respect for the king's birthday.
Blowing whistles, they said they would oust Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her self-exiled brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Declaring they were unable to work with Yingluck, the main opposition Democrat Party resigned en masse from parliament Dec. 8, raising the question of whether it would boycott the election, driving Thailand deeper into crisis.
Voting could go ahead without the Democrats but it would not end the deadlock if they staged a boycott, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University's Centre for Southeast Asian Studies.
"This is only a short-term solution because there is no guarantee that the Democrats will come back and play by the rules," Pavin said. "It seems like Thailand is going nowhere."
In April 2006, amid mass protests, the Democrats refused to contest a snap election called by Thaksin, who was deposed by the military five months later.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva sidestepped a question on whether his party would take part.
"House dissolution is the first step towards solving the problem," Abhisit, a former prime minister, told Reuters as he marched with thousands of flag-waving protesters in Bangkok's central business district. "Today, we march. I will walk with the people to Government House."
Yingluck announced the election in a televised statement.
"At this stage, when there are many people opposed to the government from many groups, the best way is to give back the power to the Thai people and hold an election. So the Thai people will decide," she said.
The vote may be held on Feb. 2, an election commission official said.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who was a deputy prime minister under Abhisit until 2011 but resigned from parliament to lead the rallies, dismissed the election as irrelevant.
"We have not yet reached our goal. The dissolving of parliament is not our aim," Suthep told Reuters.
Aware Yingluck and Thaksin's allies would almost certainly win any election, Suthep has called for a "people's council" of appointed "good people" to replace the government.