BANGKOK (AP): Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Tuesday she would not resign ahead of national elections set for Feb. 2, her voice filling with emotion as she discussed her family’s role in Thai politics.
Yingluck spoke one day after she announced elections — and one day after the main leader of a protest group seeking her ouster told his followers to stay in the streets even as he insisted his movement had now assumed broad political power.
The brazen claim — unbacked by law or control of any state institutions — has nonetheless been taken seriously by protesters and some Thai media. The Nation newspaper blazed the headline “People’s revolution declared” across its front page.
On Monday, the movement, whose goals and methods one critic described as “fascist,” issued what it titled an “order” calling for Yingluck and her Cabinet to step down from their caretaker posts by late Tuesday night.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said Tuesday evening that his “People’s Democratic Reform Committee” considered the government already null and void, and said that with the claimed political “vacuum,” there would be an appointment of a prime minister who is “acceptable to the people.”
The streets of Bangkok were quiet Tuesday, a national holiday, after weeks of sometimes violent political turmoil.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of serving as a proxy for her billionaire brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction but still wields immense influence in the country.
Yingluck insisted Tuesday that she would remain the interim head of government until the Feb. 2 elections. “I must do my duty as caretaker prime minister according to the constitution,” she said.
“I have retreated as far as I can. So I ask to be treated fairly,” she said to reporters.
Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, was toppled by a 2006 military coup that laid bare a deeper conflict between Thailand’s elite and largely urban middle class on one side, and Thaksin’s power base in the countryside on the other. That base benefited from his populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.
Ever since, the two sides have been dueling for power, sometimes violently. Since the latest unrest began last month, at least five people have been killed and at least 289 injured.
The protesters were not quieted by Monday’s announcement of new elections, saying they cannot win the polls because of corruption. The opposition Democrat Party, allied with the protest movement, has been defeated by Thaksin-allied parties in every election since 2001.
A decree from King Bhumibol Adulyadej named Yingluck as caretaker prime minister until the elections.
A newly formed group of more than 150 academics and intellectuals calling themselves the Assembly for the Defense of Democracy criticized the anti-government protesters’ claims of having a legal basis for taking over government, describing them Tuesday as “neither constitutional nor democratic.”
“They destroy the process of building political will through peaceful means in a democracy and they will lead the country to violent crisis,” the group’s founding statement said.
“What Suthep (and his group) are trying to do is launch a coup, but they have not succeeded,” said Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a lecturer in law at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. “What is clear is that they want a transition to a fascist system.” He likened the attempt to Mussolini’s moves to assume total power.
Suthep, who faces an arrest warrant on insurrection charges, spoke to his followers Monday night, challenging authorities to “Come get me.”
He said that his movement was assuming some functions of government, citing a clause in the constitution stating that “the highest power is the sovereign power of the people,” and challenged Yingluck to resign to make way for a new prime minister to be appointed outside of normal constitutional procedures.
Suthep also called for civil servants to report to the protest group instead of the government, and urged citizens to set up their own neighborhood peacekeeping forces to take over from police. The protesters have castigated the police for being zealous defenders of the government.
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