Thai protest leader wants 12 months to push reform

NO DEAL::Suthep Thaugsuban rejected the prime minister’s election and reform plans, insisting that she should step down to make way for a ‘people’s council’

Reuters, BANGKOK

Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - Page 6

The leader of a protest group trying to overthrow Thailand’s government and scrap planned elections yesterday said the prime minister should either step down or be forced out, and his movement would then need about one year to push through reforms.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has called an election for Feb. 2 in an effort to end the street protests, but Suthep Thaugsuban, a veteran lawmaker who resigned from parliament to lead the protests, has rejected the move.

Knowing that allies of Yingluck’s brother, ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, would likely win any election, he wants an unelected “people’s council” to run the country.

Suthep said he would meet military chiefs today to discuss his strategy, but he rejected any idea of cutting a deal with Yingluck, who heads a caretaker government now that the king has endorsed the election date.

Yingluck will hold a forum tomorrow to discuss reforms, but said they can only be drawn up and implemented after the election.

“Yingluck’s invitations for national reform forums are nothing new. We do not accept Yingluck’s offer. We won’t negotiate,” Suthep told reporters.

“Instead of issuing laws that benefit the people ... they have used the parliamentary system in the wrong way to help just one group of people, ... to wash the guilt of Thaksin Shinawatra,” he added, referring to a political amnesty bill that acted as a catalyst for the current crisis.

The “soft way out” of the impasse, was for Yingluck to step down and let his council push through reforms, he said. Failing that, the people would simply seize power, he said.

The number of protesters on the street has dwindled to just a few thousand from 160,000 on Monday, when Yingluck announced the snap election, but Suthep shows no sign of giving up.

On Thursday, Suthep sought to drum up support for his plans at a meeting with business leaders, talking of a “people’s assembly” of up to 400 members from a cross-section of society. He said his protest movement would get 100 of the seats.

He has offered little in the way of policy proposals.