Suthep Thaugsuban, a lawmaker who resigned from parliament to lead
the protest, and his allies have spoken of a volunteer police force,
decentralization of power and electoral reform — but apart from that
have been noticeably short on specifics.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has called an election for
February 2 in an effort to end the street protests but Suthep,
knowing that allies of Yingluck's brother, ousted former premier
Thaksin Shinawatra, would probably win any election, wants an
unelected "people's council" to take over.
Presenting his ideas to the media, Suthep said he would meet
military chiefs on Saturday to discuss his strategy, but he rejected
any idea of cutting a deal with Yingluck, who heads a caretaker
government now that the king has endorsed the election date.
She will hold a forum on Sunday to discuss reforms but says they can
only be drawn up and implemented after the election.
"Yingluck's invitations for national reform forums are nothing new.
We do not accept Yingluck's offer. We won't negotiate," Suthep told
Thailand's eight-year political conflict centres on Thaksin, a
former telecommunications tycoon popular among the rural poor
because of policies pursued when he was in power and carried on by
governments allied to him when he was ousted.
Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile to escape a jail sentence
for abuse of power, gained an unassailable mandate that he used to
advance the interests of big companies, including his own. He has
dismissed the graft charges as politically motivated.
Ranged against him are a royalist establishment that feels
threatened by his rise and, in the past, the military. Some
academics see him as a corrupt rights abuser, while the urban middle
class resent what they see as their taxes being spent on wasteful
populist policies that amount to vote-buying.
They see Yingluck as the puppet of Thaksin, who is thought to
determine government policy and has been known to address cabinet
meetings by Skype.
"Instead of issuing laws that benefit the people ... they have used
the parliamentary system in the wrong way to help just one group of
people, ... to wash the guilt of Thaksin Shinawatra," Suthep said,
referring to a political amnesty bill that acted as a catalyst for
the current crisis.
The "soft way out" of the impasse, he said, was for Yingluck to step
down and let his council push through reforms. Failing that, the
people would simply seize power, he said.
"Once we complete this in 12 to 14 months' time ... everything will
return to normal," Suthep said.
[to top of second column]
The number of protesters on the street has dwindled to just a few
thousand from 160,000 on Monday, when Yingluck announced the snap
election, but Suthep shows no sign of giving up.
The focus is now on the meeting between the chiefs of the armed
forces, Suthep and other interested parties which, according to a
statement issued by the military, aims "to find a way out for
The politically powerful army has staged or attempted 18 coups in
the past 80 years, including the ousting of Thaksin in 2006, and its
motives now are unclear. It has declined to get involved in the
crisis so far but has offered to mediate.
On Thursday, Suthep sought to drum up support for his plans at a
meeting with business leaders, talking of a "people's assembly" of
up to 400 members from a cross-section of society. His protest
movement, he said, would get 100 of the seats.
Another front could open up against Yingluck on Friday, when
Thailand's corruption watchdog starts a hearing into whether 312
lawmakers from her Puea Thai Party acted illegally in trying to push
through a change to the constitution, another spark for the street
The lawmakers voted for a change that would have made the Senate a
fully elected body, which was ruled illegal by the Constitutional
Court. At present just under half of the members of the upper house
Any case would be pursued by a division of the Supreme Court that
has previously delivered rulings that disbanded two parties allied
with Thaksin and banned executives from politics for five years.
A ruling could take months, although judgments have been sped up in
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Martin Petty;
writing by Alan Raybould; editing by Nick Macfie)
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