Thai Protesters Surround Yingluck’s House as She Tours North

More than 1,000 anti-government protesters surrounded Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s home in Bangkok, as she criticized the main opposition Democrat Party for its plan to boycott a Feb. 2 election.

“It’s regretful because the Democrats are well-known for their aim to protect democracy and the legislative branch,” Yingluck told reporters traveling with her in Udon Thani province in the country’s northeast, referring to the party led by Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former premier. “The Democrats’ aim is political reform. If we don’t have an election, how can we make it concrete?”

The Democrats are closely aligned with the protest movement led by former party powerbroker Suthep Thaugsuban, who has vowed to prevent the vote from going ahead. While welcomed by protesters, a boycott would complicate a political crisis that worsened with recent protests and disruptions at key ministries. The unrest has sent Thailand’s main stock index down 9.8 percent in the past two months, the world’s second-worst performer in that time after the Philippines.

“A boycott accentuates the crisis; it potentially brings to a flashpoint what has been described as a slow-burn civil war,” said Michael Connors, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus. “It is an open declaration of war, for it is essentially saying that we, the Democrat Party, and others will engineer a system that excludes you,” he said, referring to supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother.

Unelected Council

Senior party officials including former lawmakers have been urged to skip the polls by protesters calling for parliament to be replaced by an unelected council. The protesters are seeking to erase the political influence of Thaksin’s family.

Abhisit said yesterday the Democrats won’t participate in the election after key party members held a meeting to decide a course of action.

“Thailand has been a political failure for eight or nine years, which made people lose faith in political parties and elections,” Abhisit told reporters at a briefing in Bangkok. “The Feb. 2 election won’t be able to bring back the faith. If we send our candidates, it won’t help.”

The Democrats, with a support base largely in urban Bangkok and the Thai south, have lost every national election over the past two decades. They have failed to make inroads in the rural and more populous north and northeast, where Yingluck retains wide support.

Parliament Dissolved

Yingluck dissolved parliament on Dec. 9 and announced the election, a day after the Democrats resigned en masse to join the demonstrations, which at their peak drew more than 200,000 people.

The protesters say Yingluck’s government is illegitimate, run from abroad by her brother, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and faces a two year jail term for corruption if he returns. Protesters are calling for Thailand to suspend electoral democracy and appoint a council of “good people” in place of parliament.

“If you don’t accept the government, please accept the system,” Yingluck said today. “Please accept the election rules because we already returned the power to the people. The ones who will decide the nation’s future are the people.”

The Democrats previously boycotted an election in April 2006, when Thaksin was prime minister, on the grounds that the political system needed reform. That vote was later invalidated when a court found Thaksin’s party guilty of violating election laws. Thaksin was ousted before another election could be held.

Election Commission

Yingluck, in a speech broadcast on state-owned TV yesterday, said the vote will go ahead as planned. Election Commission Secretary-General Puchong Nutrawong told reporters yesterday the boycott won’t affect the elections. Based on preliminary talks, he said, 45 parties are ready to participate.

Yingluck has said she doesn’t see how it would be possible to delay the vote under the constitution, which states an election must be held within 60 days of the dissolution of parliament.

“She certainly should stick the February poll date,” said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University. “Yingluck is sticking to the democratic path and should continue doing so.”

Deputy Premier Pracha Promnok today said police are allowing protesters close to Yingluck’s house in order to avoid clashes. The government expects 60,000 to 70,000 protesters to demonstrate at various sites in Bangkok today, he said.

“We are confident we can control the situation as we have prepared and we have backup plans for every point,” Pracha said.’’

Yingluck said the current system of government is necessary for stability and an election must be held.

“We are still here not because we are stubborn, but because we need to take responsibility in our duty,” she said. “The government needs to hold the election. If we return power without any rules, it may create chaos and hurt our country, and how can we move forward?. Other nations also monitor us.”

(Adds Chambers’ comments in 15th paragraph.)
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