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Thai opposition leader offers solution to country's political stalemate

Publication Date : 20-02-2014


Thailand's opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva offered on Wednesday what he believes to be the only way out of the country's political stalemate: Pick an interim prime minister who is acceptable to all stakeholders and who will serve for a preset limited term until new elections can be called.

Allowing the current stalemate and war of attrition to drag on would damage the country and increase the risk of violence, Abhisit told a group of foreign journalists in Bangkok.

He called the February 2 general election, which his Democrat Party boycotted, "a sham". The election could not be completed because anti-government protesters prevented voters in some constituencies from casting their ballot. Their actions also led many people to stay home on election day.

"This whole crisis results from loss of trust in the political process. We need a neutral figure to manage the transition to an election," Abhisit said.

"You have to start from common ground: reforms is one, elections is another. It's a question of how you sequence it, so that people are confident of participating in elections and confident of reforms."

The alternative, he warned, would be "months of stalemate, increasing risk of violence, and accumulated hatred".

"We think, more and more, the country is being hurt by the stalemate and people want a way out," he added.

Abhisit said he was not in favour of having an appointed "people's council" to run the country - a demand by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) led by  Suthep Thaugsuban, formerly of the Democrat Party who was deputy premier when Abhisit was prime minister.

The PDRC has mounted more than 100 days of protests in the streets of Bangkok in an attempt to force caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra out of office and eradicate the influence of her billionaire brother and former premier Thaksin, widely seen as pulling the strings of the ruling Puea Thai party from self-exile abroad.

The caretaker government, put on the back foot for weeks, had hoped to use the February 2 general election to win a fresh mandate after winning a landslide election victory in 2012. It is also settling into a battle of attrition as Ms Yingluck faces a corruption charge that could see her suspended from her official duties.

Abhisit, together with two close party colleagues - former trade representative Kiat Sittheeamorn and former Cabinet minister Srichoke Sopha - met the foreign journalists one day after a botched attempt by police to clear a protest site disintegrated into violence and gun battles, which left four protesters and a police officer dead and scores injured.

Said Abhisit: "We are not asking for a perfect solution; we are asking for a better solution than the one we have now."

He acknowledged that before a neutral and credible figure can be appointed as interim prime minister, there must first be a political vacuum, which would then trigger a clause in the Constitution allowing such a solution. That meant all stakeholders, including the ruling Puea Thai Party, must agree, he said.

The Puea Thai, however, has so far been in no mood to compromise, pointing to the popular mandate it had won in the 2012 election. It has proposed its own reform body, which has been cold shouldered by the PDRC and the Democrat Party.

One of the problems cited by analysts reacting to Abhisit's proposal is the lack of neutral figures to head an interim administration.

Abhisit refused to be drawn into naming prospective candidates, saying only that the person should be someone with credibility whom all stakeholders trust.

"We do not wish to see democracy suspended. For the country to move ahead, we need to understand the grievances of the people protesting on the streets and of those who cast a 'no' vote or who simply did not vote," he said.

"Only then can we craft a roadmap for the future of the country."


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