Choice to make

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AMY SAWITTA LE­FEVRE in Bangkok Reuters

Thai­land’s main op­po­si­tion party has yet to de­cide whether to take part in a snap elec­tion called by the gov­ern­ment.

Thai­land’s main op­po­si­tion party opened a meet­ing on Mon­day to de­cide whether to take part in a snap elec­tion called by the gov­ern­ment to defuse street protests, but one se­nior mem­ber said re­forms de­manded by the pro­test­ers should be im­ple­mented first.

Prime Min­is­ter Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra called the elec­tion af­ter weeks of protests against her and her brother, ousted ex-prime min­is­ter Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra, and his in­flu­ence on Thai­land’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

The pro­test­ers have re­jected the elec­tion and want to set up a “peo­ple’s coun­cil” that would erad­i­cate the in­flu­ence of the “Thaksin regime” and in­tro­duce re­forms fol­low­ing a decade of elec­tion wins by Thaksin or his al­lies with sup­port from the ur­ban and ru­ral poor.

The protests have also been sup­ported by the main op­po­si­tion Demo­crat Party, Thai­land’s old­est party. All Demo­crat law­mak­ers re­signed from par­lia­ment this month and some joined the protests, in­clud­ing leader Ab­hisit Ve­j­ja­jiva, who was prime min­is­ter from late 2008 to 2011.

But the party has yet to an­nounce its stand on the Feb 2 elec­tion. A boy­cott by the Democrats would rob the vote of much of its le­git­i­macy and pro­long po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty.

Korn Chatika­vanij, widely re­spected as fi­nance min­is­ter un­der Ab­hisit, said he would not be stand­ing for the party ex­ec­u­tive at the meet­ing, which ends on Tues­day. His in­ten­tions are not clear and he was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

Korn has crossed swords with protest leader Suthep Thaug­suban, another long­time Demo­crat law­maker who had stepped down ear­lier, and has largely stayed away from his ral­lies, but he played down any dif­fer­ences in a Face­book post­ing.

I agree with the need for re­forms and want to see re­forms be­fore elec­tions take place.” KORN CHATIKA­VANIJ FOR­MER FI­NANCE MIN­IS­TER UN­DER AB­HISIT VE­J­JA­JIVA

“I agree with the need for re­forms and want to see re­forms be­fore elec­tions take place. ... You know well where I dis­agree with the protest lead­ers, but this is a mi­nor is­sue and doesn’t af­fect our over­all goal,” Korn wrote.

Suthep said re­forms, tak­ing in the elec­toral sys­tem, should be pushed through by an un­elected “peo­ple’s coun­cil” of peo­ple from var­i­ous pro­fes­sions plus mem­bers nom­i­nated by his move­ment.

The Puea Thai Party of Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra, who re­mains care­taker prime min­is­ter un­til the elec­tion, is wellplaced to win again with its bedrock sup­port in the pop­u­lous ru­ral re­gions in the north and north­east.

Thai­land’s eight-year po­lit­i­cal con­flict cen­ters on Thaksin, a for­mer telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ty­coon who won over the ru­ral poor with health­care and other poli­cies when he was pre­mier. The army ousted him in 2006.

Since 2008, he has cho­sen to live in ex­ile rather than come home to serve a jail sen­tence for abuse of power, a charge he calls po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

Suthep’s protest gained im­pe­tus in early Novem­ber af­ter Yingluck’s gov­ern­ment tried to push through a po­lit­i­cal amnesty bill that would have al­lowed Thaksin to re­turn home as a free man.

The po­lit­i­cally pow­er­ful mil­i­tary has re­buffed Suthep’s call for it to in­ter­vene on his side and has of­fered to help hold a “fair and clean” elec­tion next year.

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