THAILAND’S main opposition party resigned from parliament yesterday to protest at what it called “the illegitimacy” of an elected government with which it can no longer work.
The move deepens the country’s latest political crisis before new street demonstrations due today that many fear could turn violent.
Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said his party could not participate in the legislature anymore because the body is “no longer accepted by the people”.
The minority Democrats are closely aligned with anti-government protesters who have staged the country’s biggest rallies in years. The demonstrations began last month and are aimed at ousting prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government came to power in a landslide vote in 2011 that observers said was free and fair.
The Democrats have not won an election since 1992, and some of their leaders appear to have given up on electoral politics because they cannot win. The protesters are demanding a non-elected people’s council lead the country instead.
Thailand has been plagued by political turmoil since Ms Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former premier, was toppled in a 2006 military coup. In broad terms, the confrontation pits the Thai elite and the educated middle-class against Thaksin’s power base in the countryside.
At least five people have been killed and at least 289 injured since the latest unrest began. Several days of violence ended suddenly last week as both sides paused to celebrate the birthday of the nation’s revered king, who turned 86 on Thursday. But protesters have vowed a final showdown today in Bangkok and will march en masse from a government complex they seized to Ms Yingluck’s office.
“We will rise up. We will walk on every street in the country. We will not be going home again,” said protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who recently resigned from the Democrat party to lead the anti-government movement. “The people who will be going home empty-handed are those in the Thaksin regime.”
He called on supporters to keep the protests peaceful, but dozens of Thai and international schools in Bangkok announced they would be closed today amid concerns over the march.
Democrat leader and former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, who said he would also join the protests, said his party colleagues’ resignations from parliament were effective immediately.
Ms Yingluck’s government has been “illegitimate” ever since her ruling party tried to ram through an amnesty bill that critics allege was mainly designed to bring back Thaksin from exile, Mr Abhisit said. Thaksin lives in Dubai to avoid a jail sentence for a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.
“The solution to our current problems needs to start with the showing of responsibility,” Mr Abhisit said. “The prime minister has never showed any responsibility or conscience.”
The Democrats held 153 of the 500 seats in the lower house, according to the latest figures on their website.
In a speech yesterday, Ms Yingluck said again that she was not trying to cling to power and would be “happy to resign” and dissolve parliament if that could ease the crisis. But she said those things could only happen if new elections are organised within 60 days and all parties accept the outcome.
Ms Yingluck also reiterated an offer to set up a national forum to find a way out of the crisis. She said if there was still no resolution, a national referendum could be held.
Whatever happens, Ms Yingluck added, “it must be asked whether this is the wish of the majority of the people.”