Thai Premier Proposes Political Reform Council to Ease Unrest

Facing unrelenting street protests against her rule, Thailand’s caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra proposed the formation of a council to study ways to reform the country’s political system.

Under the proposal, a committee of 11 members including a commander from one branch of the military would recruit 2,000 people from various professions to select 499 members of the National Reform Council, Yingluck said today in a nationally televised address.

Yingluck has faced months of demonstrations aimed at toppling her government. The protesters have refused to accept her call for fresh elections on Feb. 2, saying the government must first be replaced by an unelected council of “good people” that would rewrite the political rules to make sure no one from Yingluck’s family could ever be elected again.

“I fully agree that it is now time to develop a mechanism to push forward and mobilize national reform,” Yingluck said in a translation of her speech released to the press. She said reform would be “for the sake of all Thai citizens’ happiness, benefits, peacefulness, reconciliation, unity, and prosperity, as well as for our future posterity.”

Unlike the council proposed by the protesters, Yingluck’s would not have the power to implement its proposals. Instead, the council would present its recommendations for consideration by the new government, according to the plan Yingluck outlined.

No Election

The protesters say Yingluck’s government is illegitimate and run from abroad by her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and faces a two-year jail term for corruption if he returns. Any vote held under the existing rules would return to power a party aligned with Thaksin, according to protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban.

“We will expel Yingluck from everywhere she goes,” Suthep said late yesterday in a speech to supporters. “If Yingluck remains in power after New Year, we will have a people’s revolution and seize back the people’s power.”

Parties linked to Thaksin have won the past five elections on support from voters in Thailand’s rural north and northeastern provinces. Anti-government groups say Thaksin’s electoral dominance is based on the pursuit of populist policies that damage the nation’s economy.

“We will continue to put pressure on Yingluck to resign,” Thaworn Senneam, another protest leader, said in an interview broadcast today on the Blue Sky television network, which is affiliated with the opposition Democrat party. “This will allow us to have a neutral prime minister set up a people’s council to reform the country. Yingluck’s proposal will lead to confrontation between the government and people, which could lead to chaos.”

Security Law

The protesters have repeatedly said they will not allow the election to take place, and this week they attempted to physically block candidates from registering for the polls.

The Cabinet today approved the use of the Internal Security Act in Bangkok and surrounding districts until March 1, Deputy Defense Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha said. The demonstrators have defied the security law in recent weeks without provoking a response from the police.

At least 34 parties have applied to take part in the Feb. 2 election, including all of the major parties except the opposition Democrat party.

The Democrat party, which hasn’t won a national election since 1992, is closely aligned with the protest movement, and announced Dec. 21 that it would boycott the election.

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