Bangkok: Thailand’s opposition leader on Saturday refused to commit to elections mooted for July to end an ulcerous political crisis, instead calling for prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign before new polls later in the year.
The kingdom has been without a fully functioning government since December, severely hampering policy making and draining the energy of the nation’s once-dynamic economy.
Thailand has been bedevilled by an eight-year power struggle between a royalist establishment — supported by parts of the judiciary and the military — and the billionaire Shinawatra family, which has traditionally enjoyed strong support in poor, rural, northern portion of the country.
At least 25 people have been killed and hundreds of others wounded in political violence during six months of protests to oust Yingluck and diminish the influence of her brother Thaksin on Thai politics.
Launching his proposal, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva urged Yingluck and her cabinet to resign to make way for an appointed interim administration which would oversee a debate on reforms.
It would then hold a referendum on the reform proposals with elections six months later, he told reporters, without directly saying whether or not his party would participate in the July poll.
“Yingluck should make the sacrifice of withdrawing from power,” he said. “No side can gain 100 per cent from my plan... but every side will have their demands addressed.”
Abhisit, a former prime minister, has faced criticism for his party’s boycott of polls in February called by Yingluck — which were later annulled by the courts after violent protests disrupted voting.
Critics say the move further eroded Thailand’s fragile democracy and accuse Abhisit of paying lip-service to elections.
On Wednesday Thailand set new elections for July 20, polls pro-government supporters hope could revive Yingluck’s battered administration — although they still need to be endorsed by a royal decree.
The ruling Peau Thai party said it will consider Abhisit’s reform proposal and respond formally next week.
“But we’re inclined to feel July is the simplest, fastest and most practical way to solve the political conflict and let people decide their own future,” Thaksin’s legal adviser, Noppadon Pattama, told AFP.
Abhisit’s proposal echoes demands for reforms before elections made by anti-government protesters who have massed on Bangkok’s streets, albeit in diminishing numbers.
They have promised a major rally on May 14, with rival pro-government ‘Red Shirt’ supporters planning their own gathering four days earlier in support of the beleaguered premier, as fears mount over the potential for clashes between the rivals.
Yingluck faces two legal challenges to her premiership which could see her toppled over the coming weeks.
The first relates to an allegation of abuse of power over the transfer of a security official and the second to accusations of neglect of duty in a costly rice subsidy scheme.
Shinawatra-led or aligned governments have won every poll since 2001, driven to power by votes from their vast rural base.
Critics accuse the family of vote-buying through populist policies such as the rice scheme.
Yingluck’s wildly divisive elder brother Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 army coup, sparking the seemingly intractable political conflict.
Two succeeding Thaksin-allied governments were ousted by the nation’s courts and Abhisit took power in 2008.
Thaksin lives in self-exile overseas to avoid jail for corruption convictions and his opponents say he uses his younger sister to run the country by proxy.
Mass protests in 2010 by the ‘Red Shirts’ street movement, which is broadly supportive of Thaksin, triggered a military crackdown under Abhisit’s government that left dozens dead.