Thai opposition considering election stance

Tuesday 17 December 2013 00.18
Suthep Thaugsuban (centre) says reforms should be pushed through by an unelected 'people's council'
Suthep Thaugsuban (centre) says reforms should be pushed through by an unelected 'people's council'

Thailand's main opposition party have opened a meeting to decide whether to take part in a snap election called by the government to defuse street protests.

However, one senior member said reforms demanded by the protesters should be implemented first.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called the election after weeks of protests against her and her brother, ousted ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and his influence on Thailand's political system.

The protesters, backed by Bangkok's elite, have rejected the election.

They want to set up a "people's council" that would eradicate the influence of the "Thaksin regime" and introduce reforms following a decade of election wins by Mr Thaksin or his allies with support from the urban and rural poor.

The protests have also been supported by the main opposition Democrat Party, Thailand's oldest party.

All Democrat politicians resigned from parliament this month and some joined the protests, including leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was prime minister from late 2008 until 2011.             

But the party has yet to announce its stand on the 2 February election.

A boycott by the Democrats would rob the vote of much of its legitimacy and prolong political uncertainty.

Korn Chatikavanij, widely respected as finance minister under Mr Abhisit, said he would not be standing for the party executive at the meeting, which ends tomorrow.

Mr Korn has clashed with protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, another long-time Democrat politician who had stepped down earlier, and has largely stayed away from his rallies, but he played down any differences in a Facebook posting.             

"I agree with the need for reforms and want to see reforms before elections take place ... You know well where I disagree with the protest leaders but this is a minor issue and doesn't affect our overall goal," he wrote.

Mr Suthep said reforms, taking in the electoral system, should be pushed through by an unelected "people's council" of people from various professions plus members nominated by his movement.

The Puea Thai Party of Ms Yingluck, who remains caretaker prime minister until the election, is well placed to win again with its bedrock support in the populous rural regions in the north and northeast.

Thailand's eight-year political conflict centres on Mr Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon who won over the rural poor with healthcare and other policies when he was premier. The army ousted him in 2006.

Since 2008, he has chosen to live in exile rather than come home to serve a jail sentence for abuse of power, a charge he calls politically motivated.

Mr Suthep's protest gained impetus in early November after Ms Yingluck's government tried to push through a political amnesty bill that would have allowed Mr Thaksin to return home a free man.

The politically powerful military has rebuffed Mr Suthep's call for it to intervene on his side and has offered to help hold a "fair and clean" election next year.

General Nipat Thonglek, the Defence Ministry's permanent secretary, said at a government-sponsored forum: "The military wants to see the 2 February election.

"If there are signs that the election will not be fair, the military is ready to make it fair and clean."

Keywords: thailand

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