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Thai senators prepared to pick interim leader to end impasse

LiveMint logoLiveMint 17-05-2014 Suttinee Yuvejwattana

Bangkok: A group of Thai senators said they’re prepared to install an interim prime minister to end a six-month political deadlock, raising the risk of a violent backlash by supporters of the caretaker government.

The senators, representing half of parliament’s upper house, said they’ll seek the cooperation of political parties and the government to find a solution with full participation of the Thai people. The Senate is the only legislative body still functioning after the lower house was dissolved in December for an election that was declared void by a court.

If we let the situation go on, it may lead to a collapse of the economy, society and national security. Acting Senate speaker Surachai Liengboonlertchai told reporters late Friday in Bangkok. We should speed up reform in the country in all areas as fast as possible. We must have a prime minister and Cabinet with full authority to do that.

The Senate’s proposal risks enraging the government’s Red Shirt supporters, who have held a week-long protest on the outskirts of the capital, and whose occupation of central Bangkok in 2010 culminated in a military crackdown that left more than 90 people dead and sparked arson attacks across the city. The caretaker government has said the Senate’s proposal is unconstitutional, and the only way to resolve the crisis is to hold an election tentatively scheduled for 20 July.

Government supporters have accused the Senate of acting on behalf of protesters aligned with the opposition Democrat Party, which boycotted the February poll and hasn’t won a national vote in more than two decades. The crisis has its roots in the removal of Thaksin Shinawatra as premier in a 2006 coup, with opponents aiming to end his family’s influence over politics.

Yingluck’s ouster

Parties linked to Thaksin have won the past five elections, including the 2011 vote that brought his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra to power. Yingluck stepped down 7 May after the Constitutional Court ruled she abused her power, the third ruling against a Thaksin-linked leader since the coup.

Their Red Shirt supporters will feel that they’ve been pushed against the wall and that they have no alternative but to turn to violence, Omar Hamid, head of Asia Pacific country risk at IHS Inc. said Friday in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Thailand’s army chief said the military may need to use force to counter clashes after three people were killed this week in a grenade and gun attack on an anti-government protest site in Bangkok. If the violence escalates, the military may need to come out in full force to keep the situation under control, army Chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha said, signaling the military may consider imposing martial law.

July vote

The government and its supporters are pushing for a fresh election after a 2 February poll was blocked by demonstrators and then annulled by a court. The protesters say no vote can be held until the country’s political rules are rewritten to remove the influence of Thaksin, who sets government policy even though he lives in self-exile overseas to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.

The caretaker government and the Election Commission had previously agreed on the 20 July poll date, though it was thrown into question when Yingluck was ousted. The vote will probably be delayed until August after protesters disrupted a meeting this week between election officials and the government.

The statement by the senators disappointed anti-government demonstrators because protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban had set on Friday as a deadline for lawmakers to solve the deadlock.

‘Joint goal’

Please do not blame the Senate for its slow nomination of a new prime minister, Suthep told supporters late last night. The statement showed their joint goal with us to implement political reforms and to appoint a new prime minister and government. But Thaksin’s people who are still in power are trying to do everything to obstruct this attempt. If the Senate cannot name a new premier soon, we will have to do it ourselves.

He said a meeting will be held on Saturday to plot the protesters’ next move. Suthep faces charges of sedition and treason linked to the latest protest, and murder charges stemming from his time as deputy premier in 2010, when he oversaw a military crackdown on Thaksin supporters.

A group of 50 senators wants the Election Commission and the government to expedite arrangements for the vote, and believes Suthep’s demands are unconstitutional, said Tri Danpaiboon, an elected senator who spoke on behalf of the group. Appointed senators make up almost half of Thailand’s upper house and the remainder are elected.

Populist policies

Suthep’s supporters accuse the Shinawatras of corruption, crony capitalism and using populist policies to secure the support of rural voters. The government’s supporters accuse the protesters of seeking to subvert democracy because they know they will lose at the ballot box.

The government’s supporters in the Red Shirt movement have vowed to fight any attempt to install an unelected government.

The country’s solution must be for the people to decide, Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan said this week. All parties should overlook Suthep’s proposals and listen to the people. BLOOMBERG

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