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Democrat MPs quit House

All 152 members to join today's rally; Yingluck willing to dissolve House, call election

THE OPPOSITION Democrat Party yesterday unanimously resolved that all of its remaining 152 MPs would resign and join today's mass rally against the Yingluck Shinawatra government, which is to be held throughout Bangkok.

Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said at a party press conference yesterday: "We will fight as Thai citizens tomorrow".

Abhisit said the Opposition decided to quit as it wanted to help the country find a solution to the current political problems. He said the problems are spiralling towards a crisis, as antigovernment protesters are stepping up their campaign against what he described as an illegitimate government.

Explaining the reasons for the mass resignation, he said it was a gesture to demonstrate that the government had lost legitimacy when it rejected the Constitutional Court's ruling on charter-amendment legislation and issued illegal resolutions that ran against the public's feelings.

"Since the House and the government have lost legitimacy, it must return sovereignty to the people," he said.

He said the Democrat MPs had done their parliamentary duties as best as they could by checking the government, but it lacked a conscience and sense of responsibility.

There were originally 161 Democrat MPs, but nine earlier resigned to lead the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). The movement's secretary-general is former Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban.

The Democrats' resignations from Parliament came ahead of today's planned mass anti-government march to Government House, which is intended to mark Suthep's "final day of battle". The resignations allow the MPs, including Abhisit and party chief adviser Chuan Leekpai, to join the rally today without worrying about the legal consequences for the party. By resigning they protect the Democrat Party from the possibility of dissolution stemming from any protest actions they might take.

However, by resigning they also lose immunity from prosecution. On December 12, Abhisit and Suthep are scheduled to acknowledge an indictment over their handling of the crackdown on the 2010 red-shirt protests in Bangkok.

The decision came after a five-hour party meeting. A party source said the Democrats estimate more people will join in laying siege to Government House than responded to Suthep's call to a first "day of battle" on November 24.

The resignations are also aimed at putting pressure on the Yingluck government to step down. The resignations of the 152 Democrat MPs leave 339 MPs in Parliament.

The source said that if Yingluck called a House dissolution, the Democrats would run in the next election. They were aware that Suthep's demands would be difficult to realise, the source added. Suthep has called for the establishment of a People's Council and for an unelected prime minister.

"We hope the formula of the next coalition [following the election] would be different from the current one," the source said.

Protesters at the major anti-government rally site at Democracy Monument welcomed the news after a rally spokesman announced the decision on the stage. As instructed by the PDRC, the protesters will lay siege to Government House today.

Meanwhile, a senior Army officer, who asked not to be named, said yesterday he hoped there would not be any violence at today's major rally. "Everyone on every side must calm down and stay in their places and find a way to talk peacefully," he said. He said the Army would do its best for the country, adding that every non-partisan Thai should urge all sides to end their political conflict.

He said people should try not to sway the Army to take either Suthep or the government's side. "We are officers for the nation, the people and the monarchy," he said.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday she was ready to dissolve the House and hold a national election within 60 days as stipulated under the law, to be held under fair rules, if that is what the majority of people wanted.

In a special televised programme, she insisted that the protesters' demands that a People's Council be set up and a royally appointed prime minister installed were not allowed under the Constitution, and that the proposals were still a source of debate among academics.

"The protest leaders' demand for a People's Council is unconstitutional. I cannot meet their demand. But I am willing to hold a referendum on a People's Council to see whether the majority of Thais agree with this proposal," she said.

"However if the protesters and the big political parties do not accept [my offers to step down or dissolve the House], or do not accept the results of the election, the political crisis will certainly be prolonged. This could be compared to the political situation in 2006, when a political party boycotted a national election, which resulted in a political vacuum and eventually a coup d'etat," Yingluck said.

The premier was apparently referring to the Democrat Party's boycott of national elections in that year.

She was speaking a day before a massive rally led by Suthep was due to be staged against her government in Bangkok.

The government proposed setting up a forum to discuss the protesters' demands, Yingluck said.

"However, if the conflicts cannot be settled, I propose that a public referendum be held to allow all people to decide," she said. "All political parties and protesters would accept the results of the public referendum, so that all conflicts are solved."

Akanat Prompan, a PDRC spokesperson, later issued a four-point counter-statement in response to Yingluck, asking that she stop putting the blame on the people, and adding that her statement contained nothing new and was aimed at buying time for her government.

"Yingluck has not apologised to the public for her government's failures and all the problems it has caused," he said.

The Pheu Thai-led government and the Pheu Thai-dominated Parliament have no legitimacy or authority following the landmark Constitutional Court ruling dismissing charter-amendment legislation relating to candidates' qualifications in future senatorial elections, Akanat said. Yingluck's proposal for a public referendum on the PDRC-proposed establishment of the so-called People's Council was a result of the mass street protests against her government led by the PDRC, the spokesman said.

He insisted that the PDRC-led marches today would be peaceful and that all protesters would be unarmed, with the foreign and Thai media observing this.


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