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Abhisit re-elected party leader, no news on Thai polls

Publication Date : 18-12-2013


Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was on Tuesday re-elected as the leader of the opposition Democrat Party as it comes under increasing scrutiny for whether it will contest in snap polls next year.

The party, which has not won an election since 1992, stands at the crossroads after all its lawmakers quit Parliament earlier this month to join an anti-government campaign which has overtly rejected the snap elections in favour of political reforms by an unelected "people's council".

On Tuesday, on the second day of its general assembly, the party postponed a widely anticipated decision on whether it would boycott the polls on February 2, which was called after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the House of Representatives on December 9 in the face of massive street protests.

The party has until December 27 to decide if it wants to take part in the election next year.

If the Democrats decide to boycott the polls, it would not be the first time.

They did the same in 2006, shortly before then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup.

The self-exiled billionaire remains a focal point in Thai politics today, with protesters intent on eradicating all traces of the "Thaksin regime" from the system.

Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is the caretaker premier and her Puea Thai party - which until recently commanded a majority in the Thai Lower House - is closely aligned to Thaksin.

Abhisit, a 49-year-old Oxford-educated politician, was elected unopposed, leading analysts to wonder if there would be much leeway for party reform.

The Democrats, said Ubon Ratchathani University political scientist Titipol Phakdeewanich, have in recent years been too consumed with opposing Thaksin and his political network to figure out how to attract more voters into the fold. "If Abhisit is still in charge, then nothing will change," he added.

The party is closely aligned with ongoing anti-government protests. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was Abhisit's deputy from 2008 to 2011 and a senior Democrat executive until he quit Parliament alongside eight other colleagues in mid-November to spearhead the movement.

Many of the protesters hail from Bangkok and the southern provinces, where the Democrats draw most of their support.

Suthep has said that the movement would need at least 12 months to complete reforms and eradicate vote-buying before elections can be called.

Critics said the plan is another attempt by middle-class voters to get around the electoral supremacy of Puea Thai, which draws its strength from the country's rural masses.

On Tuesday, a faction of the anti-government movement submitted letters to several foreign embassies, including the Singapore Embassy, asking for help to bring Thaksin back to Thailand to face justice.

The tycoon lives in Dubai to evade a 2008 jail sentence for corruption, which he has said was politically motivated.

While the protest drew well over 150,000 onto the streets earlier this month, only a few thousand now remain.

A stalemate has ensued in Asean's second largest economy, with demonstrators still surrounding the prime minister's office in a bid to force Yingluck to resign and make way for the "people's council" to run the country instead.

On Tuesday, Yingluck reiterated that she would not quit her role as caretaker prime minister.

The protesters have so far not managed to get outright support from Thailand's powerful military.

But they have begun holding forums in Bangkok to promote their ideas for reform.


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