The Thai government was forced to delay presenting its policy statement to Parliament on Monday after almost ten thousand anti-government protestors blocked access to the building. The government ruled out the use of force and was in the process of negotiating with the protestors in the hope that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva would deliver his statement later in the week.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva hopes to deliver his maiden speech later this week
Several attempts to convene the Parliament failed on Monday. Anti-government protestors successfully prevented Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from delivering his maiden speech to parliament just two weeks after he was elected government leader.
The speech is seen as a key requirement for the administration to commence its work. The House speaker called for the parliament to meet again on Tuesday.
The protestors are largely allied to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup two years ago. Mr Thaksin now lives in exile, after being found guilty of corruption and sentenced to two years in jail.
Mr Abhisit came to power in mid-December after coalition partners and factions from the former Thaksin-backed government split to join with his Democrat Party.
Ongoing negotiations with the “red shirts”
Sirichok Sopha, who is a Democrat Party member of parliament, said negotiations with the pro-Thaksin group, who wear distinctive red shirts, were ongoing.
“They want to block our entrance so that we cannot convene parliament and so the government cannot deliver the policy statement,” Sirichok said. “Now, we are negotiating with them. They want us to walk in -- they don’t want us to go in with our cars. I am not sure whether they can guarantee us any safety.”
After Mr Abhisit was elected, several supporters of the previous government had hurled stones at vehicles belonging to Democrat Party members leaving the parliament building -- causing widespread injury and damage.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thansuban said that government leaders could not agree with the demand that members of parliament walk through the crowd to reach the chamber:
“We are concerned about the safety of the members of parliament first and also the safety of the people.”
Avoiding bloodshed at all cost
The government wants to avoid bloodshed at all cost.
In October, during protests outside parliament against the previous government, up to 400 people were injured when police opened fire with tear gas and stun grenades.
“We will have to negotiate,” Sirichok insisted. “There is nothing else we can do because we don’t use violence and we want to open a dialogue with them -- and we will wait -- we have time so that’s no problem.”
Rallies until fresh elections are called
A spokesman for the anti-government protestors, Jakrapob Penkair, said the rallies would continue and would be extended nationally until Mr Abhisit dissolved parliament and called fresh elections.
“We have a problem with the legitimacy of the Abhisit government. Our message is that we don’t want the Abhisit government completely installed as a government. And the red shirt rally today is meant to convey a direct message to him that we see him as illegitimate,” Jakrapob said.
Thailand’s political divisions have cast the rural poor and working class that back the populist policies of Mr Thaksin against the middle and urban classes that accuse him of being corrupt and authoritarian.
When it is finally made, this week’s speech by Mr Abhisit is expected to call for national unity and lay out the plans for almost nine billion dollars in government spending to revive the flagging economy.