BANGKOK — Thai government supporters yesterday threw their support behind upcoming elections in the crisis-hit nation, warning that calls by opposition protesters to suspend the country’s democracy risked “absolute dictatorship”.
Bangkok has been shaken by more than a month of mass opposition demonstrations aimed at ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and ridding the kingdom of the influence of her older brother, deposed former leader Thaksin.
On Monday Yingluck called an early election — set for February 2 — to try to calm the political turmoil. But opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban rejected the move, demanding the government step aside in favour of an unelected “people’s council”.
The Red Shirt protest movement, which is largely loyal to Thaksin, urged people to take part in the vote regardless of which party they support.
“If you choose Suthep’s side, you choose absolute dictatorship,” Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikuea said at a press conference yesterday.
“If you don’t accept what Suthep does you must cast a vote — this is not a mission for the Red Shirts alone, but the entire Thai people,” he said.
Thailand has seen several bouts of political turmoil since Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006, with rival protests spilling into the streets in sometimes bloody unrest.
Yingluck said yesterday she was confident the military would not launch another coup to try to end the political crisis, despite its history of seizing power.
The coup-makers who ousted her older brother Thaksin seven years ago realised that it “doesn’t solve any problems”, she said.
“I don’t think the military will do that again,” she told foreign reporters.
Thailand has seen 18 actual or attempted coups since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
But army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha said last week problems should be “solved by politics”.
The political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and a royalist elite backed by the military against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin.
He lives in self-imposed exile abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption that he claims was politically motivated.
But critics say he controls his sister’s government behind the scenes.
Parties allied to the tycoon have won every election since 2001, most recently with a landslide victory for Yingluck’s Puea Thai in 2011.
Yingluck criticised the protesters for ignoring the voice of her rural supporters.
“I came from the people’s election of 16 million votes but nobody listens (to them),” she said.
Suthep is a former deputy prime minister for the opposition Democrat Party, which has been unable to win a parliamentary majority in some two decades.
The rally leader, who faces an arrest warrant for insurrection over the protests, is also due to be indicted today on a murder charge over a bloody crackdown on Red Shirt protests in 2010.
About 90 people died and nearly 1,900 were wounded in rallies against the then Democrat-led government three years ago, that were broken up by soldiers firing live rounds.
Former Democrat premier Abhisit Vejjajiva is also due to be indicted on the same charge today.“The Attorney General has been informed by Abhisit’s legal team that he will be at court as scheduled,” said the chief legal officer’s deputy spokesman Watcharin Panurat.
Tensions remain high after several days of street clashes last week when police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against rock-throwing demonstrators.
The unrest, which saw protesters besiege key government buildings, has left five people dead and more than 200 injured.