BANGKOK – Abhisit Vejjajiva the Democtatic party leader has urged both sides in Thailand’s political crisis must back down from a “showdown in May” that many fear will turn violent and inflict deep damage on the country’s economy and reputation.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, head of the Democrats and a former prime minister, called for talks and the start of political reforms ahead of elections within months, warning that the Arab Spring had shown the dangerous potential for countries to suddenly erupt in violence.
His comments come amid growing fears among business people and others of the impact of a crisis that has paralysed the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, prime minister, for almost five months and is undermining Thailand’s ambitions to take a central role in southeast Asia’s economic integration.
“[People] see the country moving ahead next month into what could be even more confrontation, more threat of violence,” Mr Abhisit said in an interview. “Given the accumulated frustration and suffering and loss of opportunity for the country, I think it’s really time people begin to speak up for the middle ground.”
Mr Abhisit rejected criticism that he had played a big part in the current turmoil by boycotting an election in February and throwing his weight behind six months of street protests. He insisted instead that he had been trying to bring the two sides together for “months” to talk about a reform package covering areas such as corruption, decentralisation and education.
While he said warnings from some government supporters and others of civil war should Ms Yingluck be ousted by two, soon-to-be-concluded, legal cases were partly “rhetoric”, he acknowledged there were “genuine risks” of serious trouble in the latest phase of a struggle that has already claimed more than 20 lives. Kamol Duangphasuk, a pro-government activist and poet who had criticised the country’s strict lèse-majesté laws, was shot dead on Wednesday by unidentified gunmen in a restaurant car park in north Bangkok.
“It’s not very difficult to whip up sentiment against the other side,” Mr Abhisit said. “Even the Arab Spring began from some minor incidents. It just gathers momentum – and if people are in the mood for conflict, who knows what it will lead to.”
Ms Yingluck’s government has slashed economic growth forecasts and put more than $15bn of investment decisions on hold since the start of the crisis, during which the prime minister has headed a caretaker administration shorn of many revenue-raising and decision making powers. Thailand’s central bank warned this week that growth would slow down more than expected during the first half of this year, because of the impact of the political situation on investment and the country’s important tourism industry.
Private sector business groups warned this week that Thailand urgently needed a new government to approve projects and prepare for next year’s planned launch of a single economic community of the 10-member Asean group of southeast Asian countries.