Thailand Opposition Weighs Poll Boycott as Protesters Plan Rally

Thailand’s main opposition party, which re-elected former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as leader yesterday, will meet Dec. 21 to decide whether to boycott a snap election forced by protests that gripped the capital.

The Democrat Party faces a tough call on whether to run in the Feb. 2 polls as its stands to be hurt “both ways” by its decision, Abhisit told reporters in Bangkok yesterday after the group’s meeting, where members voted overwhelmingly to re-elect him. New and past board members of the party and former lawmakers will be invited to the take part in the decision-making gathering, he said.

“No matter what we decide, it will affect the party,” Abhisit said. “The party may be wounded or disabled. But we will do what is needed to lead the nation to better things.”

Suthep Thaugsuban, Abhisit’s former deputy prime minister who leads the anti-government demonstrations, said yesterday protesters plan to walk around the capital starting tomorrow to persuade people to join them and will hold a rally Dec. 22 to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to relinquish office. Suthep has said he is staging a “people’s coup” and seeks the support of the nation’s military, which he hasn’t received.

“Abhisit may have already tested the water that Suthep’s extreme protest might not go so far now that there is no support from the military,” Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at Kyoto University’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said yesterday. “The party might want to switch to elections.”

Council Call

Protesters are calling for Thailand to suspend electoral democracy and appoint a council of “good people” to erase the political influence of the prime minister’s family. Yingluck, whose brother Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup in 2006, dissolved parliament and called for fresh elections on Dec. 9, a day after Democrats resigned en masse to join the street rallies that gained momentum in late October.

Yingluck urged all parties to respect the rule of law and to use internationally accepted methods to choose a leader. She said in a post on her Facebook page today that under the constitution she must remain prime minister until the elections are completed and a new leader takes office.

“I came to power two years ago in an election by the people,” Yingluck told reporters in Bangkok yesterday. “If I am to leave, I want it to be through the electoral process.”

She said her government would cooperate with the Election Commission to make sure the polls are transparent and fair.

Coups, Clashes

Thailand has experienced nine coups and more than 20 prime ministers since 1946. Political clashes between Thaksin’s supporters and opponents since 2006 have killed more than 100 people and sparked arson attacks in Bangkok and an occupation of the nation’s airports and government offices.

Abhisit retained leadership of a party that hasn’t won a national election in more than 20 years. The Democrats took power in 2008 through a parliamentary vote that followed the court dissolution of a Thaksin-allied party and ruled for almost three years. In 2010, Abhisit and Suthep oversaw a deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters. Both are facing murder charges for allowing soldiers to use live ammunition to put down the unrest.

It was Abhisit’s third re-election as party leader, this time with 98 percent backing, said Trairong Suwankiri, the party member responsible for the ballot. He ran unchallenged.

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