Thai PM stands firm on February election

January 16, 2014 - 12:45:06 pm

Thousands of Thai protesters march through central Bangkok, blocking streets on the third day of the ‘Bangkok shutdown’, yesterday.

BANGKOK:  Thailand’s government stuck to a plan for a February election yesterday despite mounting pressure from protesters who have brought parts of Bangkok to a near-standstill, and said it believed support for the leader of the agitation was waning.

Some hardline protesters have threatened to blockade the stock exchange and an air traffic control facility if Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra does not step down by a deadline media said had been set for 8pm. 

The unrest, which flared in early November and escalated this week when demonstrators occupied main intersections of the capital, is the latest chapter in an eight-year conflict.

The country’s political fault line pits the Bangkok-based middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former premier ousted by the military in 2006 who is seen as the power behind her government.

Yingluck invited protest leaders and political parties to discuss a proposal to delay the general election, which she has called for February 2, but her opponents snubbed her invitation.

After the meeting, the government said the poll would go ahead as scheduled, and it derided the leader of the protest movement, Suthep Thaugsuban. 

“We believe the election will bring the situation back to normal,” Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana told reporters. “We can see that the support of Mr Suthep is declining. When he is doing something against the law, most people do not support that.”

Speakers at protest sites across central Bangkok have given the impression Yingluck is worn out and eager to quit. 

But she seemed relaxed and cheerful at the meeting, which was held inside an air force base near Don Muang International Airport.

Senior officials stressed a caretaker government had no powers to postpone or cancel the election and stressed even an imperfect poll was better than none.

“The ballot box doesn’t solve everything, and she knows that. But at least that’s the right step,” Suranand Vejjajiva, secretary-general to the prime minister, said.

The protesters say they will occupy the city’s main arteries until an unelected “people’s council” replaces Yingluck’s administration.

There was no sign of trouble at the two targets named by hardliners in the protest movement, the stock exchange and the central Bangkok offices of AeroThai, which is in charge of air traffic control communication for planes using Thai air space.

AeroThai said it had back-up operations to ensure no disruption to air travel if its control centre was shut down.

Suthep’s supporters have blockaded at least seven big Bangkok intersections and are also trying to stop ministries from functioning, forcing many to remain closed, with civil servants working from back-up facilities or from home.                        Reuters

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