Thai prime minister tells senators he won’t resign
BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s acting prime minister insisted Monday that his government will not resign, resisting pressure from a group of senators who are seeking ways to settle the country’s political crisis, and from anti-government protesters who are demanding an appointed prime minister.
The deadlock in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy has been worsening since former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the lower house in December and a court ousted her and nine Cabinet ministers earlier this month for abuse of power.
A group of about 70 senators, most of whom are seen as siding with the anti-government protesters, proposed a framework on Friday that calls for a government with full power to conduct political reforms.
Acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan and Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri met with two representatives of the Senate in an undisclosed location Monday to avoid disruption from the protesters.
In a statement following the meeting, Niwattumrong said the Cabinet cannot resign because “it will be negligence of duty and against the constitution,” and insisted he “can carry out duties and has full authority” as prime minister.
The Cabinet has operated in a caretaker capacity with limited power since Yingluck dissolved the lower house in December in a failed bid to ease the political crisis. A new government cannot normally be named until there are elections, which anti-government demonstrators have vowed to block unless political reforms occur first.
“After being informed of the government’s clear stance like this, the Senate will move on to other plans. We have backup plans that can be implemented within this week,” Sen. Wanchai Sornsiri, the spokesman of the Senate’s coordinating panel, told reporters, without elaborating about the plans. “Had the government resigned, as in the initial plan, it would have been easier.”
The Senate, the only functioning legislative body in the country, was seen as the last resort of the anti-government protesters, who are calling for an interim, unelected prime minister to be chosen.
Earlier this month, the Constitutional Court removed Yingluck for nepotism along with nine Cabinet members in a case that many viewed as politically motivated. Protesters said her removal is not enough because she was replaced by an acting prime minister from the ruling party, Niwattumrong.
Anti-government protesters say they are making their final push to oust the government and install an unelected prime minister and government. They have promised to call off their rallies if they are not successful by May 26, following six months of street demonstrations in which 28 people have died and hundreds of others have been injured.
The protesters on Monday began searching for members of the Cabinet at their residences to pressure them to resign, but did not find any.
Labor unions representing about 20 state-owned enterprises vowed to go on strike Thursday to support the anti-government protesters, although several companies, including Thai Airways and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, said Monday that they would operate normally.
Thailand’s political crisis began in 2006, when Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, remains highly popular among the poor in the north and northeast, and parties controlled by him have won every national election since 2001. The anti-government protesters, who are aligned with the opposition Democrat Party and backed by the country’s traditional elites, say they want to remove all traces of his political machine from politics.
Monday was the fourth anniversary of a deadly military crackdown on pro-Thaksin protesters who camped out in major intersections in the capital for nine weeks in 2010 to call for new elections. More than 90 people were killed during the protests.
Thaksin’s supporters, known as the Red Shirts, have staged a rally in Bangkok’s western outskirts since May 10, raising concerns about possible clashes between them and the anti-government protesters.