Thailand’s opposition leader yesterday refused to commit to elections scheduled for July to end a deadly political crisis and instead called for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign before new polls set for later in the year.
The kingdom, divided by years of political unrest, has been without a fully functioning government since December last year, severely hampering policymaking and draining the energy of the nation’s once-dynamic economy.
Launching his well-trailed proposal to ease the crisis, Democrat party leader and former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva urged Yingluck and her cabinet to resign to make way for an appointed interim administration that would oversee a debate on reforms.
It would then hold a referendum on the reform proposals to drag Thailand out of its current paralysis with elections six months later, he told reporters, without saying explicitly whether or not his party would participate in the July poll.
“Yingluck should make the sacrifice of withdrawing from power,” he said, adding that his roadmap is inspired by the fear of spiraling political violence, which has so far left at least 25 people dead and hundreds wounded.
“No side can gain 100 percent from my plan... but every side will have their demands addressed,” he said.
Abhisit has faced criticism for his party’s boycott of polls in February, which were called by Yingluck and later annulled by the courts after violent protests disrupted voting. Critics say the move further eroded Thailand’s fragile democracy and accuse Abhisit of paying lip-service to elections.
On Wednesday, Thailand set new elections for July 20, polls pro-government supporters hope could revive Yingluck’s battered administration — although they still need to be endorsed by a royal decree.
Abhisit’s proposal echoes demands for reforms before elections, made by antigovernment protesters, who have massed on Bangkok’s streets for six months in a bid to oust Yingluck and curb the influence of her billionaire family on Thai politics.
Yingluck faces two legal challenges to her premiership that could see her toppled over the coming weeks. The first relates to an allegation of abuse of power and the second to her role in a costly rice-subsidy scheme.
Thailand has been riven by an eight-year power struggle between a royalist establishment — supported by parts of the judiciary and the military — and the Shinawatra clan, which has strong support in poor, rural northern Thailand.
Shinawatra-led or aligned governments have won every poll since 2001, driven to power by votes from their vast rural base. Critics accuse the family of vote-buying through populist policies such as the rice scheme.
Yingluck’s wildly divisive elder brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a 2006 army coup, sparking the seemingly intractable political conflict.
Two succeeding Thaksin-allied governments were ousted by the nation’s courts, and Abhisit came to power in 2008.
Mass protests in 2010 by the Red Shirts street movement, which is broadly supportive of Thaksin, triggered a military crackdown under Abhisit’s government that left dozens dead.