Thai PM calls for fresh polls, fails to satisfy protesters

Beleaguered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra today succumbed to sustained anti-government protests and dissolved Thailand's parliament and called a snap poll by February 2, a move that did little to appease defiant demonstrates who remained on the streets.

"After listening to opinions from all sides, I have decided to request a royal decree to dissolve Parliament," Yingluck said in a televised address.

"There will be new elections according to the democratic system," said the 46-year-old premier who came to power in 2011.

Following Yingluck's sudden announcement, anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban congratulated a crowd of over a lakh people for reclaiming the country with "bare hands".

"We should be proud of ourselves that this is the first time the people, owners of the country, reclaimed the country from a corrupt government with our bare hands. We do it today, my fellow Thais," Suthep said.

Yingluck, who protesters accuse of acting as a proxy for her fugitive brother and former premier Thaksin Shinwatra, was under pressure to quit and call a fresh poll since late last month, when protests started for her government to be replaced with an unelected "People's Council".

Election Commission member Sodsri Sattayatham said a general election to elect the 500-seat lower house will be held under Thai laws within 60 days, or before February 2, 2014.

However, protesters said their rallies will continue. Suthep said demonstrators would "blow the final whistle" in an attempt to uproot the "Thaksin influence" from the country and today's announcement was only the "first step".

Protesters besieged Government House this morning, prompting authorities to cancel a plan to invite foreign diplomats to observe the situation there.

Yingluck said she will remain the head of the interim government. "The situation seems likely to escalate to violence so the government has decided to return power to the people and let them decide through elections," she said.
However, protest leaders Satit Wongnongtaey and Tavorn Senieum demanded her resignation.

Satit told protesters that dissolution of parliament was only the first victory but it was not enough for achieving real democracy. He said the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee led by Suthep wants the "People's Council" to be formed and the caretaker cabinet to resign.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said he believed Yingluck would run in the next election although she had not yet spoken about it.

Protest leaders, most of them  former opposition Democrat MPs, however, said the setting up of a "People's Council" was necessary to ensure that the "Thaksin Regime and its servants will not return".

The Thai interior minister and two deputy premiers issued an urgent statement on NBT channel to urge people and students to stop joining the protests and return home. They said protesters should stop for the sake of the country.

Opposition MPs yesterday resigned en masse to join the protests. Opposition Democrat Party leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said its 153 MPs were resigning from the lower house - a move that does not prevent the ruling Puea Thai party from passing new laws but leaves parliament facing questions about its legitimacy.

The Election Commission (EC) has said the Democrat Party MPs who resigned could register again and contest the polls.

The EC will also cancel the December 22 by-elections to fill eight seats previously left vacant by the resignation of Democrat MP last month to lead an all-out protest against the Yingluck administration.

"There will be new elections according to the democratic system...The people will decide what the majority wants and who they want to government the country," Yingluck said in an effort to defuse the over two-week long crisis.

Five persons have died and hundreds injured in the anti-government protests in Thailand's worst political turmoil since the 2010 rallies that swept Abhisit from power.

The violence paused briefly late last week to mark revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej 86'th birthday.

Thousands of "red-shirt" Thaksin supporters occupied key parts of the capital in 2010. More than 90 people, mostly civilian protesters, died over the course of the two-month sit-in.

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