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Suthep pushes on

Protesters demand that the prime minister must stand down

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's decision to dissolve the House of Representatives yesterday failed to satisfy leaders of the anti-government protest, who insisted on her also stepping down as head of government.

The protesters demanded the government be replaced by a non-elected "people's council" and an interim administration that consists of no politicians. This proposed interim administration and "people's council" should implement political reform for one year or one-and-a -half years before being dissolved to make way for a general election, some protest leaders said.

Key protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, speaking after leading a march to Government House, urged the demonstrators to continue with their push for political reform.

"We have invested a lot together and we have to succeed, or we won't return home," he said.

Only hours after the prime minister dissolved the lower house of Par-liament, the government proposed that new elections be held on February 2.

Government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi said the date was proposed during a Cabinet meeting yesterday, the Associated Press reported. The proposed date requires approval from the Election Commission.

EC spokeswoman Jinthong Intarasri said electoral officials would meet with the government in the next few days to discuss it.

In her nationally broadcast address, the prime minister said: "The government does not wish to see political conflict escalate into national division and violence. Returning power to the people by dissolving the House and calling a general election is a democratic and acceptable recourse. Let a majority of the people decide the direction and who they want to run the country."

The ruling Pheu Thai Party resolved late yesterday to contest the next general election with Yingluck as its first party-list candidate to become the next prime minister.

Wirat Kalayasiri, who resigned on Sunday as an opposition Democrat MP along with 151 other party MPs, said yesterday that dissolving the House was "not enough". He called on the caretaker Cabinet to resign en masse, and the majority of the outgoing and incoming members of the five-person Election Commission to resign so that an election could not be held.

Wirat suggested that the Senate Speaker should nominate a neutral prime minister for royal endorsement. A new caretaker Cabinet should spend six months to one year amending necessary laws for reform and to make way for a new election.

He said the Democrat Party would convene later to come up with a joint proposal on this.

Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Vechayachai yesterday said he saw no good reason why the Democrats should boycott the next general election. He said the prime minister had done her best in order to defuse a crisis - offering an apology and returning power to the people.

He challenged the protest leaders' demand for Yingluck to resign as caretaker premier, as the Constitution states the PM has to continue with the caretaker role until the new election is held.

"House dissolution is the best the prime minister can do. We may be called the losers if you like, but we just want peace to be restored in the country. We are not afraid of losing. Winning or losing, let's fight it out in the election," Phumtham said.

Academics agreed yesterday they did not think that dissolving the House was a way out for the current political crisis - although they also did not view the proposal by the People's Democratic Reform Commission for a people's council and an unelected interim government as a solution either.

Jade Donavanik, of Siam University's Faculty of Law, said that with a House dissolution failing to satisfy protesters, having an election when the conflict was still simmering would only bring more problems to the country. He suggested the government resign as caretaker administration and pave the way for a neutral Cabinet to take over. He also called on the protesters not to insist on their demand for a people's council.

Kanit na Nakorn, chairman of the Committee for Legal Reform, said the prime minister's decision to dissolve the House came too late. He noted that the current situation was similar to one after the student-led uprising in October 1973 that brought down a dictatorial government and forced government leaders to flee the country.

Assadang Panikabutr, former dean of Ramkhamhaeng University's Faculty of Political Science, called on Yingluck and Suthep to have a dialogue in order to settle differences. He did not think House dissolution would solve the political stalemate but said the government had made its decision.

Prachak Kongkirati, a political scientist at Thammasat, said a House dissolution was the best option in the current situation to avoid bloodshed. He urged the Democrat Party to take part in the next election.

Academic Nidhi Eoseewong voiced opposition to the idea of having an unelected people's council. He said people's representatives must be elected. Nidhi said that after the House dissolution, political parties had to comply with the existing legal path by taking part in the next election.


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