Thailand’s political crisis ground on yesterday as the country’s prime minister reiterated her refusal to quit as protesters trying to topple her administration blocked key roads in the heart of Bangkok for a second day.
The demonstrators had pledged to “shut down” the city of 12 million people, but life in most of the vast metropolis was unaffected, with school classes restarting, commuters heading to work and most businesses open.
The nation’s latest bout of unrest began late last year and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has tried to ease it by dissolving parliament and calling for new elections on Feb. 2.
However, there are growing doubts that the vote will take place and both protesters and the main opposition Democrat Party are calling for a boycott.
Yingluck’s opponents are demanding she step aside so an interim, non-elected government can take over and implement reforms before any new poll is held.
“I’ve stressed many times I have a duty to act according to my responsibility after the dissolution of parliament,” Yingluck told reporters. “I’d like to say right now I am not holding on [to my position], but I have to keep political stability. I’m doing my duty to preserve democracy.”
Yingluck proposed to meet today with various groups — including her opponents — to discuss a proposal from the Election Commission to postpone next month’s vote, but the Democrats and even the commission has refused to take part.
She said all sides need to discuss reform because “the country is in pain and the people are suffering.”
Meanwhile, protesters stopped officials from going to work at several key ministries.
Several thousand demonstrators gathered outside the Thai customs department to prevent staff from going to work, according to reporters at the scene.
“This is not democracy. It is autocracy... it is a one-man rule,” rally leader Satish Sehgal said, railing at former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s alleged stranglehold on the nation’s politics.
“There’s massive, rampant corruption in this country. Nepotism. Our objective is to try and get rid of all this,” Satish said.
Demonstrators also surrounded the ministries of commerce, labor and information and communications technology.
Although many key junctions remained blocked in the Thai capital, the number of demonstrators on the streets appeared to have declined as some returned to work.
However, a student group has threatened to besiege the stock exchange, although a spokesman for opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee said the bourse was not one of its targets.
“We will not lay siege to places that provide services for the general public, including airports, the stock exchange and trains. However, we will block government offices to stop them from functioning,” Akanat Promphan said at a rally.
Stock Exchange of Thailand president Jarumporn Chotikasathien said emergency measures had been prepared to secure the premises and trading systems.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said the government was still functioning.
Additional reporting by AFP and Reuters