Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra defended his decision yesterday to dissolve parliament and call elections in a bid to end Thailand's political turmoil and return with a new electoral mandate.
The premier also said the prolonged political standoff was damaging the economy, as Thailand was set to launch a major public works project it hoped would drive foreign investment in the kingdom.
"In capitalism, a country's confidence should not be damaged," he told the nation in his weekly radio address, urging voters to turn out for the polls on April 2 to elect a new government.
"The government must be decisive and return the power to the people to decide whether they still want this administration or now," he said, vowing not to surrender to "mob rule."
"It doesn't matter if you're fed up with me, but you have just one vote like everyone else. So I urge all voters to turn out for this historic election to cast your vote," he said.
Amid mounting pressure to quit, Thaksin late on Friday dissolved the lower house of parliament, forcing a new vote three years ahead of schedule that closely follows his landslide election victory last year.
Analysts see the move as countering demands that he resign, with Thaksin likely to ride his current popularity to a fresh mandate.
The anti-Thaksin movement gained momentum over his family's US$1.9 billion tax-free sale of stocks in Shin Corp -- the telecoms giant he founded before entering politics -- to foreign investors last month.
Some 50,000 people joined a Feb. 4-5 rally in Bangkok in the biggest anti-government protest since Thaksin took office in 2001. A week later, 20,000 people gathered in the capital.
Authorities say as many as 50,000 people could again take to the streets today for protests they warn could turn violent as demonstration organizers urged voters to boycott the April election.
"The People's Alliance for Democracy is calling for everybody to reject this election," said Suriyasai Katasila, spokesman for the People's Alliance for Democracy, which is made up of various anti-Thaksin groups.
"The election will even lead to more chaos in forming government ... Thaksin dissolved parliament just to conceal his faults and escape his wrongdoing," Suriyasai said.
Somkiat Pongpaiboon, one of the five members of the Alliance's central committee, questioned the Thaksin government's neutrality in supervising an election.
"This man should not be in Thai politics anymore," he said.
Major Thai newspapers yesterday also rebuffed Thaksin's decision, arguing that the public wanted his resignation, not a snap election.
"It should not be allowed to distract attention from the real issues of Thaksin's actions over the past five years and his lack of fitness to rule," the English-daily ,,Nation said in an editorial.
Ong-art Klampaiboon, a spokesman for the opposition Democrat party, said it was unfair of Thaksin to send people to the polls in order to pull himself free of this political crisis.
"The house dissolution solves Prime Minister Thaksin and his family's own problems. It's not fair for people who have to go to poll again," he said.
"Thaksin has tried every possible way to take advantage of the other parties and this time he will use authority and enormous wealth to win the election and come back again," he said.