Prime Minister Samak says he will consider lifting state of emergency
THAI Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej found little support yesterday for his proposal to hold a referendum to resolve the stalemate with protesters who have occupied his offices for 11 days.
The protesters stormed into his Government House compound on August 26 demanding that Samak resign and that Thailand's democracy be curtailed, saying only 30 per cent of seats in parliament should be elected.
Samak has refused to step down or call snap elections, insisting that he would stay in office to defend democracy.
As a compromise, he has proposed holding a referendum asking the public to decide whether he should stay or go.
But critics slammed that idea, arguing that the balloting would only drag out the turmoil and risked sparking new violence like the clashes among rival protesters that left one of Samak's supporters dead early Tuesday.
Also yesterday, Samak said he will consider lifting a state of emergency in Bangkok amid anti-government protests because it was being ignored.
The emergency was declared in Bangkok on Tuesday after protesters besieging his offices clashed with his supporters, leaving one person dead and 43 wounded.
The decision put Bangkok under the control of the powerful army chief, General Anupong Paojinda, but he has refused to evict the protesters who have squatted on the lawn outside Samak's offices for 11 days.
"There is no need for the state of emergency because no one has complied with it. Since people are not complying with it, I will consider revoking it," Samak told reporters.
"Since they are defying, the decree has not been effective. Therefore I will consult with the concerned officials in a day or two" about ending emergency rule, he said.
Speaker of the Senate, Prasobsook Boondech, told reporters that organising a referendum would take at least one month.
"The problem of the country is immediate and needs to be resolved as quickly as possible," he said.
The opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said on the web site for the Thairath newspaper that the referendum would not resolve the stalemate.
He proposed that Samak dissolve parliament and call snap elections.
"The referendum is going to be a non-starter," said political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak, of Chulalongkorn University. "We're back to the same confrontation."
The White House on Thursday voiced support for Samak's elected government, but urged all sides to refrain from violence.
"We urge both supporters and opponents of the Thai government to refrain from violence, respect the rule of law, and address their differences within Thailand's democratic institutions," said spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
The protesters, who call themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), are an unlikely mix of royalists, business tycoons and unionists united only by their desire to see Samak resign.
Thailand's people are deeply divided by the protests, with one survey of 16 provinces showing 50 per cent of respondents supported the movement.
The finding highlights the social divide that ripped Thailand apart in recent years, with Bangkok's traditional elite backing the PAD while poor but populous rural areas support Samak.
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was the first politician to rally Thailand's rural voters with low-cost loans and free healthcare.
But the PAD staged mass protests against Thaksin in 2006, accusing him of corruption and paving the way for a military coup.
Thaksin has fled to Britain to escape corruption charges, but he tapped Samak to lead his supporters to a victory in elections last December, which ended more than a year of military rule. The PAD protesters accuse Samak of acting as Thaksin's puppet, and say they want to change the electoral system. AFP
Saturday, September 6, 2008
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