Yingluck Offers Referendum as Thai Opposition Joins Protest

Thai opposition lawmakers quit en masse to join protests to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who offered to hold a national referendum to end weeks of street demonstrations in Bangkok.

“The cause of the crisis is the government,” Democrat party leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, said at a media briefing late yesterday. “We want to go out and fight with all of the other people on the street.”

Demonstrators who plan to march to Yingluck’s office today have refused her offers to step down, dissolve parliament or hold a national poll on their demand to replace Thailand’s democratic system with an unelected council. Yingluck’s opponents have said their goal is to rid the country of the political influence of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, whose allies have won every election since his ouster in a 2006 coup.

“The protest leaders’ demand for a people’s council is unconstitutional,” Yingluck said in a televised broadcast on state-owned television yesterday. “I cannot meet their demand. But I am willing to hold referendum on a people’s council to check whether the majority of Thais agree with this proposal.”

Suthep Thaugsuban, who quit the Democrat party last month to lead the protest movement, said he would end the rallies today if they failed to achieve their goal. The resignation of opposition members of parliament won’t have an immediate effect on policy making, because Thailand’s most recent parliamentary session ended last month.

Fund Outflows

“We will march to claim the people’s power back from Yingluck,” Suthep told supporters in a speech late yesterday. “Dissolving parliament won’t solve the crisis because Yingluck will still control all the government’s mechanisms, which will let her influence the vote and return to power.”

Thailand’s benchmark SET Index has dropped 1.6 percent this quarter, poised for its third straight quarterly slide. That would be the longest quarterly decline since 2009. Foreigners have sold a net $5.53 billion of Thai stocks this year, on course for the biggest annual outflow since Bloomberg began collecting the data in 1999.

In addition to sliding consumer confidence, the main short-term impact of the unrest will be on the tourism industry during the year-end high season, JPMorgan Chase & Co. wrote today in a report.

‘Good People’

The demonstrators accuse parties linked to Thaksin of vote-buying and Yingluck’s administration of corruption and economic mismanagement. They have called for an appointed committee of “good people” to implement political reforms before handing power to a new democratically elected government.

The rallies began more than a month ago to oppose a proposed amnesty law that Yingluck’s critics said would benefit her brother. Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile since fleeing abuse of power charges in 2008, and has helped guide policy from abroad since Yingluck led the Pheu Thai party to victory in a 2011 election.

After the amnesty legislation was rejected by the Senate last month, the protesters switched their goal to dismantling Thaksin’s political network. Parties linked to the former premier have won the past five elections on support from voters in northern and northeastern provinces.

‘Lost Legitimacy’

“The government hasn’t taken responsibility for its attempt to pass the amnesty bill,” Abhisit said. “The government also rejected the Constitutional Court’s authority, so it lost legitimacy to govern.”

Suthep was a former deputy premier with the opposition Democrat party, which hasn’t won a national poll in more than 20 years. He faces murder charges for his role in helping to oversee a deadly crackdown on supporters of Thaksin in 2010 when the Democrats were in power. Courts issued two warrants for his arrest last week, including one on a charge of insurrection, which carries a penalty of life imprisonment or death.

Yingluck and Suthep said both sides will avoid violence today, and the police said at a separate briefing that security forces will carry only shields and batons, after they were criticized of using rubber bullets to combat violent protests last week.

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