BANGKOK – Thailand’s political crisis continued Tuesday to grind on as the prime minister reiterated her refusal to quit and protesters trying to topple her administration blocked key roads in the heart of Bangkok for a second day.
The demonstrators had pledged to “shut down” the city of 12 million people, but life in most of the vast metropolis was unaffected, with school classes restarting, commuters heading to work and most businesses open.
The Southeast Asian nation’s latest bout of unrest began late last year and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has tried to ease it by dissolving parliament and calling for new elections on Feb. 2.
There are growing doubts that the vote will take place, however, and both protesters and the main opposition Democrat Party are calling for a boycott. Yingluck’s opponents are demanding she step aside so an interim, non-elected government can take over and implement reforms before any new poll is held.
“I’ve stressed many times I have a duty to act according to my responsibility after the dissolution of parliament,” Yingluck told reporters. “I’d like to say right now I am not holding on (to my position), but I have to keep political stability. I’m doing my duty to preserve democracy.”
Yingluck proposed to meet Wednesday with various groups — including her opponents — to discuss a proposal from the Election Commission to postpone the February vote. But the Democrats and even the Election Commission has refused to take part.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban ruled out negotiations Monday, saying “you cannot compromise with this undertaking. . . . There’s only win or lose.”
Yingluck said all sides need to discuss reform because “the country is in pain and the people are suffering.”
Protesters accuse Yingluck’s government of corruption and misrule, and for being the puppet of her older brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He was toppled by the army in a peaceful coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction.
The poor majority in Thailand’s countryside, however, broadly support Thaksin and his family because of the populist policies he implemented, including virtually free health care.
Ever since Thaksin’s overthrow, the two sides have been dueling for power, sometimes violently. At least eight people have been killed and hundreds injured since the latest unrest began late last year.
Yingluck’s opponents know she would win another election, and have called for an unelected “people’s council” to select the next premier, as well as other reforms, although their goals in this regard remain vague.
On Tuesday, thousands of protesters — many of them southerners from out of town — slept in the streets in tents or on mats in the open air.
“Our goal is to get rid of this government,” said Preecha Chamdee, a 46-year-old rubber tapper from eastern Rayong province. “An election is not an answer because they will win again. We need reforms.”