BANGKOK – Thailand’s main opposition Democrat Party said Saturday that it would boycott February’s general election, deepening a weeks-long political crisis over protesters’ efforts to oust the government and force political reforms.
The party’s leader, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, announced the boycott after a meeting of party executives. He said the decision was made to ensure that Thailand’s government will “represent the people once again.”
The party’s position reflects the stand taken by street protesters demanding that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down ahead of the elections. The demonstrators want an interim government appointed to institute reforms before any new polls are held.
The Democrats, who are closely allied with the protest movement, also led an election boycott in 2006 that helped destabilize the government and paved the way for a military coup that ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s older brother.
“Even though the Democrat Party has a history of clearly supporting reform, today I have to accept the truth that the people believe that even if the Democrat Party runs in this election, they believe they will be not be able to reform the country,” Abhisit said at a news conference. “We are choosing the harder path, making the long-term decision to represent the people once again.”
The protest movement, led by a former senior member of the Democrat Party, Suthep Thaugsuban, has said it will insist that the Feb. 2 elections not be held if Yingluck stays on as caretaker prime minister. Abhisit, however, distanced his Democrats from the position of the so-called People’s Democratic Reform Committee, saying the party respected the concept of elections.
Promphong Nopparit, a spokesman for Yingluck’s ruling Pheu Thai party, said the Democrats’ action was not unexpected and that it was taken because they knew they would lose.
“I believe that what Mr. Suthep has done in the name of the PDRC in the past two months, claiming they want to reform before the election — it’s more like Mr. Suthep wants a revolution to take power,” Promphong said.
“It is a political game. In the end, they have the same objective, which is to overthrow Yingluck’s government and overthrow the democratic system,” he said.
Earlier Saturday, Yingluck formally proposed a plan for political reforms after the election. It included having election candidates take an oath to support the creation of a reform council immediately after taking office; having the council’s representatives come from all walks of life at local and national levels; and mandating that the council finish its work of organizing and setting up reform mechanisms within two years.
Thailand has been wracked by sometimes violent political conflict since the coup that toppled the billionaire Thaksin, who was accused of corruption and abuse of power.
The protesters say Thai politics are hopelessly corrupt under Thaksin’s continuing influence, and that he buys his electoral support from the country’s urban and rural poor. They accuse Yingluck of being his puppet, and believe that traditional one-man, one-vote democracy doesn’t work because the poor are not educated enough to choose responsible leaders.
Thaksin’s supporters say he is disliked by Bangkok’s elite because he has shifted power away from the traditional ruling class.
The protests, which started Oct. 31, have drawn crowds as large as 150,000 to 200,000 people. Demonstrators have forced their way into government compounds, temporarily occupying several of them.
Although there have been several pitched street battles, the government has been relatively restrained in its response and even surrendered some premises to avoid serious clashes. Yingluck dissolved the lower house of parliament earlier this month to try to end the crisis.
There was a call for another major demonstration Sunday, and protest leaders have hinted they might try to disrupt the registration of election candidates, which begins Monday.