Thailand’s government yesterday stuck to a plan for a February election despite mounting pressure from protesters who have brought parts of Bangkok to a near-standstill, and said it believed support for the leader of the agitation was waning.
Some hardline protesters have threatened to blockade the stock exchange and an air traffic control facility if Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra does not step down by a deadline media said had been set for 8pm.
The unrest, which flared in early November last year and escalated this week when demonstrators occupied main intersections of the capital, is the latest chapter in an eight-year conflict.
Yingluck invited protest leaders and political parties to discuss a proposal to delay the general election, which she has called for Feb. 2, but her opponents snubbed her invitation.
After the meeting, the government said the poll would go ahead as scheduled, and it derided the leader of the protest movement, Suthep Thaugsuban.
“We believe the election will bring the situation back to normal,” Thai Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana told reporters. “We can see that the support of Mr Suthep is declining. When he is doing something against the law, most people do not support that.”
Speakers at protest sites across central Bangkok have given the impression Yingluck is worn out and eager to quit, but she seemed relaxed and cheerful at the meeting, which was held inside an air force base near Don Muang International Airport.
Her senior officials stressed that the caretaker government had no legal powers to postpone or cancel the election and stressed that even an imperfect poll was better than none.
“The ballot box doesn’t solve everything, and she knows that. But at least that’s the right step,” said Suranand Vejjajiva, secretary-general to the prime minister.
The protesters say they will occupy the city’s main arteries until an unelected “people’s council” replaces Yingluck’s administration.
There was no sign of trouble at the two targets named by hardliners in the protest movement, the stock exchange and the central Bangkok offices of AeroThai, which is in charge of air traffic control communication for planes using Thai air space.
AeroThai said it had back-up operations to ensure no disruption to air travel if its control center was shut down.
Suthep’s supporters have blockaded at least seven big Bangkok intersections and are also trying to stop ministries from functioning, forcing many to remain closed, with civil servants working from back-up facilities or from home.
Demonstrators marched to the home of Thai Energy Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal carrying a coffin with his name on it, ASTV news reported.