Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra proposed a referendum on her future yesterday and promised to resign if that was what the people wanted, as anti-government protesters prepared for a final push to force her from power.
Protesters have been on the streets of the capital for weeks, clashing with police and vowing to oust Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her self-exiled brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The demonstrations are the latest eruption in nearly a decade of rivalry between forces aligned with the Bangkok-based establishment and those who support Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon who won huge support in the countryside with pro-poor policies.
Underscoring the divide, the pro-establishment Democrat Party yestrerday said all of its members of the House of Representatives would give up their seats because they were unable to work with the ruling party.
The leader of the anti-government protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister of the Democrat Party, has called for a final demonstration today to force Yingluck out.
Yingluck said in a televised statement her government was searching for ways to end the conflict.
“We should conduct a referendum so that people can decide what we should do,” she said.
Suthep, aware that Yingluck and her party would likely win an election if one were called, has been urging the setting up of a “people’s council” of appointed “good people” to replace the government.
Yingluck has dismissed the idea as unconstitutional and undemocratic. She did not spell out the specifics of any referendum but said it was in line with the constitution.
“I’m willing to listen to proposals from the protesters. I’m not addicted to this title,” she said. “I’m ready to resign and dissolve parliament if that is what the majority of the Thai people want.”
Suthep has told his supporters they had to take back power from what he calls the illegitimate “Thaksin regime,” but he told them they could not rely on the army to help.
The army, which ousted Thaksin in 2006, said it did not want to get involved, though it has tried to mediate.
Critics of the government say it is illegitimate because it buys votes, but analysts say Thaksin has built up a solid base of support in the countryside with his populist policies, which has helped him or his allies win every election since 2001.
The protesters have missed successive deadlines for forcing Yingluck out and their numbers have been dwindling. Suthep said on Saturday if they were not successful in ousting the government today he would give up his fight.
A spokesman for the Democrats said all members would resign from the lower house of parliament, where Yingluck’s party has a comfortable majority, and join today’s march.
“The party has unanimously voted that all Democrat MPs will resign because we can’t work with the government MPs,” spokesman Nipit Intarasombat told the Nation Television. “This government has no legitimate power.”
Without the Democrats, the 500-member lower house will have 347 members.
The government has not used excessive force against the protesters and Yingluck said on Saturday the police would act with restraint if people tried to occupy public buildings.
Five people have been killed in clashes between rival activists and scores have been hurt, many by teargas the police have been firing to keep protesters out of government buildings.