independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Thai PM refuses to quit before poll

Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra is defying opposition demands to step down

Thailand's prime minister has refused to resign ahead of national elections set for February 2, despite opposition demands she step down as the caretaker head of government.

Yingluck Shinawatra spoke the day after she announced elections - on the same day the main opposition leader ended a massive protest rally of 150,000 people by insisting his movement had now assumed broad political power.

The streets of Bangkok were quiet today, a national holiday, after weeks of sometimes violent political turmoil as the protesters demand Ms Yingluck give up power to an unelected "people's council".

The protesters accuse her of serving as a proxy for her brother, former prime m inister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction. They want to keep the politically powerful Shinawatra family from wielding influence in the country.

Ms Yingluck told reporters today that "I must do my duty as caretaker prime minister according to the constitution. After the parliament is dissolved there must be elections according to the constitution. Then, the newly elected prime minister can assume his or her position".

She grew teary eyed when asked about her family's role in Thai politics, saying she did not understand why her family had become an issue.

Her brother, Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, was toppled by a 2006 military coup that laid bare a deeper conflict between Thailand's elite and largely urban middle class on one side, and Thaksin's power base in the countryside on the other. That base benefited from his populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.

Ever since, the two sides have been duelling for power, sometimes violently. Since the latest unrest began last month, at least five people have been killed and at least 289 injured.

The latest round of protests started last month when Ms Yingluck's party tried to pass a bill that would have granted amnesty to Thaksin and others.

The protesters were not quieted by the announcement of new elections, saying they cannot win the polls because of corruption. The opposition Democrat Party, allied with the protest movement, has been defeated by Thaksin-allied parties in every election since 2001.

A decree from King Bhumibol Adulyadej scheduled the elections on February 2 and named Ms Yingluck as interim prime minister until then.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who faces an arrest warrant on insurrection charges, spoke to more than 150,000 followers yesterday at a stage near Ms Yingluck's offices, challenging authorities to "Come get me".

He claimed that his movement was assuming some functions of government, citing a clause in the constitution stating that "the highest power is the sovereign power of the people".

"This means that from now on the people will appoint the prime minister of the people and appoint the government of the people," he told the cheering crowd.

He said a new prime minister and an unelected "people's council" - which has no basis in the constitution - would work to end corruption in politics and keep Ms Yingluck and her brother from returning to power.

But there was no sign that Mr Suthep's movement had assumed any government powers, or that Ms Yingluck's administration would cede any to them.

Press Association

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