Thailand's opposition parties rejected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's compromise offers and pressed forward yesterday with a boycott of snap elections the embattled Thai leader has called to defuse a political crisis.
Accusing the tycoon-turned-politician of corruption and abuse of power, pro-democracy groups prepared for a mass rally today aimed at keeping pressure on Thaksin to resign. They have vowed militant action if he doesn't step down.
One of Thaksin's most powerful opponents, former politician Chamlong Srimuang, said he was rejecting Thaksin's offer of a meeting and would lead today's protest with the slogan "Fight until we win."
Thaksin extended an olive branch on Friday night at a campaign rally of his Thai Rak Thai party ahead of April 2 national elections.
Speaking to a cheering crowd of what appeared to be well over 100,000 supporters, he offered to resign if his party fails to secure more than half the votes in the poll.
If he is re-elected, he said he will hold a national referendum on constitutional reforms within 15 months and then call fresh elections.
"I play by rules someone else wrote, so come join the election with me," he said, maintaining that he was following democratic procedures.
But the leading opposition parties reaffirmed that they would not take part.
"Thaksin dissolved the House [of Representatives] and called snap elections to launder himself of several wrongdoings," Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters. "Thaksin's proposal for political reform is mere lip service. We cannot trust him any more."
The deputy leader of the opposition Chart Thai party, Somaak Prisana-anantakul, said he didn't believe an election would take place on April 2 or that Thaksin would make good on his promise of political reform.
The party leaders said they would launch a campaign to explain why a boycott was needed and stress the "dangers of the Thaksin system."
Tens of thousands of protesters have been demanding Thaksin's resignation in regular weekend rallies, accusing him of corruption, mishandling a Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand, stifling the media and allowing cronies to reap gains from state policies.
"I will continue protesting until he is out of office, even in the face of legal action against me," said Chamlong, who helped to bring down a military-led government in 1992 through bloody street demonstrations. Chamlong, formerly Thaksin's political mentor, is a leading figure in the Santi Asoke Buddhist sect, which says it can mobilize tens of thousands of adherents in the ranks of its "Dharma Army."
Theerayuth Bunmee, a prominent social critic, predicted that people power will bring down Thaksin but warned protesters about pushing too fast.
"People power will be successful in toppling Thaksin but don't rush to get to the winning line. If the protesters march to the residence of Thaksin, they may step into the trap and Thaksin will use this as the excuse to declare a state of emergency," said Theerayuth, a leader in a 1973 pro-democracy uprising which toppled a military dictatorship.