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Protests force Thai PM to call election

Antigovernment protesters celebrate the prime ministers decision to dissolve parliament. Picture: AP

Antigovernment protesters celebrate the prime ministers decision to dissolve parliament. Picture: AP

  • by AMY SAWITTA LEFEVRE IN BANGKOK
 

Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has dissolved parliament and called a snap election, but anti-government protesters maintained mass demonstrations in Bangkok, as they seek to install an unelected body to run the country.

Police estimated 160,000 converged on Ms Yingluck’s office at Government House yesterday, but there was none of the violence and bloodshed seen before the demonstrations paused last Thursday out of respect for the king’s birthday.

The protesters want to depose Ms Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006 and has chosen to live in exile rather than serve a jail term for corruption.

There was a carnival atmosphere as protesters gathered at Government House, with unarmed police and troops inside the gates. The demonstrators made no attempt to get into the grounds but said they would camp outside overnight. After nightfall, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban spoke to supporters, saying: “From this minute onwards, all Thais have taken power back for the people.”

He called Ms Yingluck’s government incompetent and corrupt for policies such as a costly rice intervention scheme and water management projects, and said the people would select a new prime minister.

But he gave no clues as to how that would be done, or how he planned to take over the levers of power.

Aware that allies of Ms Yingluck and Mr Thaksin would almost certainly win any election, Mr Suthep has called for a “people’s council” of appointed “good people” to replace the government. As such, he was dismissive of the early election. “The dissolving of parliament is not our aim,” he said.

Opposition Democrat Party MPs resigned en masse from parliament on Sunday, saying they could not work with Ms Yingluck.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva sidestepped a question on whether his party would take part in the election.

“House dissolution is the first step towards solving the problem,” he said as he marched with thousands of protesters in Bangkok’s central business district. “Today, we march.”

In 2006, amid mass protests, the Democrats refused to contest a snap election called by Mr Thaksin, who was deposed by the military five months later.

An election would not end the deadlock if the main opposition party did not take part, 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. It seems like Thailand is going nowhere.”

Ms 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 government said the vote would be held on 2 February.

The army, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years, has said it does not want to get involved.

The protests follow nearly a decade of rivalry between forces aligned with the Bangkok-based establishment and those who support Mr Thaksin, who won huge support in the countryside with pro-poor policies.

 

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