Thai opposition politicians vow to resign en masse
PM promises referendum on her future as anti-government protesters try to force her from power
Anti-government protesters blow whistles and wave clappers as they gather during a rally at the Government Complex in Bangkok today. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha /Reuters
Thailand’s main opposition party has said all of its members in the house of representatives would give up their seats because they were unable work with the ruling party.
Meanwhile Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra today proposed a referendum on her future and promised to resign if that was what the people wanted.
This is taking place as anti-government protesters prepared for a final push to try to force her from power.
The pro-establishment Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said that his party could not work in the legislature any more because it is “no longer accepted by the people”. The minority Democrats are aligned with anti-government protesters who have staged the country’s biggest rallies in years.
Protesters have been on the streets of the capital for weeks, clashing with police and vowing to oust Ms 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 telecommunications tycoon who won huge support in the countryside with pro-poor policies.
The leader of the anti-government protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat Party deputy prime minister, has called for a final demonstration on Monday to force Ms Yingluck out.
Ms 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.
Mr Suthep, aware that Ms 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.
Ms 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.”
Mr 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, has said it does 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.
Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid a graft conviction but has remained closely involved with his sister’s government. The protests were sparked last month by a government bid to introduce an amnesty that would have expunged his conviction.
The protesters have missed successive deadlines for forcing Yingluck out and their numbers have been dwindling. Suthep said if they were not successful in ousting the government on Monday, he would give up his fight.
A spokesman for the Democrats said all members would resign from the lower house of parliament, where Ms Yingluck’s party has a comfortable majority, and join Monday’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, including their main target, her Government House offices. There was no sign of any fortifications going up on Sunday.
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.
The protesters occupy the Finance Ministry and a government administrative complex.