Thaksin on warpath
PM urges opposition to join election; claims he won't lead again if his party gets fewer than half the votes cast
Embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday issued a war cry to his supporters and threw down the gauntlet to his opponents by pledging not to become premier if his party receives fewer votes than the number of abstentions and votes against him.
Thaksin made a last throw of the dice in front of a massive crowd of more than 200,000 people at Sanam Luang for a purported Thai Rak Thai election rally.
Facing mounting pressure for his resignation, Thaksin ruled out any lingering speculation he might quit as he becomes increasingly alienated by much of the middle-class and the intellectual community.
Buoyed by waves of rural folk who poured into Sanam Luang and spilled over into Rajdamnoen Avenue, Thaksin made no secret of his intention to turn the April 2 snap election into a semblance of a presidential election. By daring those who don't like him to mark "abstain" on their papers, Thaksin apparently is trying to legitimise the poll - by making it a virtual referendum on him.
"If my party receive less votes than the number of people abstaining combined with votes for smaller parties, I will not accept the premiership," a belligerent Thaksin told the vociferous crowd.
The challenge seemed to express concern that the opposition's boycott would encourage vast numbers of voters to follow suit, turning the election into a farce. He was also apparently worried that unless the election was generally perceived as a referendum on his leadership, the credibility of the results will be seriously questioned, thus aggravating his present political crisis.
"I beg the three opposition parties, Democrat, Chat Thai and Mahachon [which have announced a boycott of the election], to join the contest. If they really insist on a boycott, they can campaign for voters to mark 'abstention' to reject me," he said.
Voters are allowed to cast a "no vote" on their ballot card to show they do not approve of any candidate.
Thaksin said after getting elected in the snap poll, he will begin political reforms by amending Article 313 of the Constitution to allow representatives of the people to draft a new charter as occurred in 1974 after the 1973 bloodshed.
Some additional laws later would be amended, he said. The whole political reform would take about one year before a referendum to endorse the new charter and another parliament dissolution before a new election.
"By doing so, I have take two steps backward … I have scarified myself for the nation," he said.
Thaksin urged all people in conflict with him to calm down after the poll so that Thailand could celebrate with dignity the 60th anniversary of His Majesty the King's accession to the throne.
Thaksin's supporters - some of whom were said to have been paid between Bt300 and Bt500 to join the rally - came in groups led by megaphone-wielding guides like tourist groups.
Sanam Luang, which covers 118,187 square metres has the capacity to accommodate about 100,000 sitting people.
The crowd was far bigger than the anti-Thakin rally last Sunday and Monday called by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).
"This huge presence gets rid all of my fatigue accumulated over the past five years," Thaksin said when he took the stage at 7pm.
Suranand Vejjajiva, a minister attached to Prime Minister's Office, claimed over a million attendance before Thaksin's presence. He updated the crowd figure every half an hour.
Suriyasai Katasila, coordinator of PAD, urged the Election Commission to investigate the TRT gathering as he heard the ruling party mobilised government resources to organise the rally.
Thaksin's promises during the rally were unbelievable, he said. It was impossible that Thaksin would not take up the premiership as his party would get more votes than its smaller rivals. The election turn out would be low and only TRT members would come to vote, he said.
Thaksin, moreover, has no legitimacy to champion political reform, Suriyasai added.
Key members of TRT attacked the opposition over the election boycott saying it was undemocratic and urged the supporters at Sanam Luang to vote.
Thaksin urged people throughout the nation to send postcards to Government House to show their support for democracy and the Constitution.
"Send postcards to say we want democracy. No need to love me or vote for me," Thaksin said, adding 5.3 million cards had arrived at Government House so far.
Thaksin defended the Shin Corp deal saying his family played by the rules over tax exemption. He said they still needed to pay income tax of at least Bt300 million a year.
Supporters, including thousands of motorbike taxi drivers, shouted motto: "We love Thaksin, we choose Thaksin", countering the "Thaksin get out" cry at the PAD rally.
The ruling Thai Rak Thai party tried to copy every aspect of the anti-Thaksin rally, setting the stage on the opposite side with a blue screen. Unlike the PAD on Sunday, the press was allowed to access the back of the stage without restriction and no pre-registration was required.
Suranand claimed the media was free to report on crowd numbers without fear of harassment from Thaksin supporters as anti-Thaksin protestors did with iTV last Sunday.
Students who claimed they represented 50 educational institutes took the stage to hail Thaksin. Some said the government was the best and Thaksin was their hero.
However, many students unions, including the Student Federation of Thailand, Thammasat University Student Union and high school students from Triam Udom are seeking to oust Thaksin.
Thaksin said the protest against him was the product of a conflict among his old friends.
He begged the friends-turned-foe, such as media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul and Dharma Army chief Chamlong Srimuang, to talk to him.