Desperate to defuse Thailand’s deepening political crisis, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the lower house of parliament yesterday and called for early elections. However, the moves did nothing to stem a growing tide of more than 150,000 protesters vowing to overthrow her in one of the nation’s largest demonstrations in years.
Analysts said the steps came too late and are unlikely to satisfy opponents who want to rid Thailand of her powerful family’s influence. The protesters are pushing for a non-elected “people’s council” to replace her democratically elected government.
In a speech late yesterday, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban lashed out against Yingluck, calling her administration “corrupt” and “illegitimate” as crowds of supporters cheered.
The protest movement does “not consent to allowing the dictatorial majority ... to betray the people, to destroy the balance of democratic power,” Suthep said.
The people must use “their rights as citizens to take back their power,” he said.
Thailand has been plagued by major bouts of upheaval since Yingluck’s brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled in a 2006 army coup that laid bare a deeper conflict between the elite and educated middle class against Thaksin’s power base in the countryside, which benefited from populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.
An attempt by Yingluck’s party last month to pass a bill through parliament that would have granted amnesty to Thaksin and others triggered the latest round of unrest. Thaksin fled overseas in 2008 to avoid a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.
“After listening to opinions from all sides, I have decided to request a royal decree to dissolve parliament,” said Yingluck, her voice shaking as she spoke in a nationally televised address that broke into regular programing. “There will be new elections according to the democratic system.”
Yingluck’s ruling party won the last vote two years ago in a landslide, and is likely to be victorious in any new ballot.
Government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi said the Cabinet had proposed a new vote be held on Feb. 2.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej formally endorsed both that date and the dissolution of the Thai House of Representatives, according to a royal decree.
Yingluck said she will remain in a caretaker capacity until a new prime minister is named.
As Yingluck spoke yesterday, long columns of marching protesters paralyzed traffic on major Bangkok boulevards, filling four-lane roads as they converged from nine locations on Yingluck’s office at Government House.
Suthep spoke on a stage erected nearby.
Many feared the day could end violently and more than 60 Thai and international schools closed as a precaution, but the marches were peaceful and no violence was reported.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said yesterday that the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Thailand is on heightened alert amid the current political turmoil in Bangkok.
An official at the Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs said the office has been keeping a close eye on political developments since anti-government street protests began again in recent weeks.
“The representative office has also increased its vigilance against possible street disturbances in Bangkok today,” the official added.