As the political crisis continued in Thailand, the Cabinet agreed on Thursday to hold a referendum and ask the people to say whether they agree with the anti-government campaign that has gripped the country for ten days and that the prime minister should resign. The government hopes to consolidate its power and “preserve democracy” with the move but the protesters insist they will not back down until Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej leaves office.
Anti-government protesters in Thailand deplore Premier Samak's decision not to resign
Thousands of anti-government protesters reinforced their barricades around Government House in the Thai capital Bangkok on Thursday, fearing they might be removed by force. They even poured fresh oil on the slope leading up to the government compound -- last week security forces fell flat on their faces as they succumbed to the same tactic.
Self-appointed guards brandishing bamboo sticks and sporting plastic helmets were on hand in case there was any trouble. “We are protecting the people who are inside, old people, women and children -- we are fighting for the children,” one explained.
There is no sign that the protesters will stop fighting. But at least the pressure has forced the government to agree to hold a referendum on the issue.
“I will not resign” insists Samak
Having adamantly stated on Thursday morning in an address to the nation that he would not resign, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, announced in a radio interview later on in the day that the public would be asked if it agreed with the opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy’s campaign and whether it thought the government should resign.
But few protesters were convinced that the government’s decision to hold a referendum is in their best interests. One said the government was just playing for time “so it can extend its power and find out whether it can still drive us away from here. A referendum is not a solution at all.”
Another thought that in any case the results would be manipulated: “The government just wants to transfer responsibility to the people although some of them don’t have a clue what is going on. In the end, we won’t know if the result is real or not.”
False allegations of election fraud are canker sore of Thai politics
The People’s Alliance for Democracy has accused the government of election fraud in last December’s elections.
However, the deputy government spokesman Nuttawut Saikua denied this charge: “That is an allegation that opponents in the Thai political landscape often throw at each other.”
“The Democrat Party alleges that the PPP bought votes whereas the PPP alleges that the Democrats bought votes. These allegations are the canker sore of Thai politics. I hope that such allegations will not emerge in future when democracy is strengthened.”
Samak said on Thursday he would stay on “to preserve the country’s democracy”. The government hopes that the referendum will serve to consolidate its legitimate position in power.
Referendum not due before October
Currently, there is no legal provision for holding a referendum so the Senate has to approve a bill to allow a vote to be organised. The bill then needs to be endorsed by the king.
With the king’s endorsement a referendum can be held after 30 days. So, if all goes to plan, a referendum on the government’s future will be held in early October.
Until then, the demonstrators seem set to continue their campaign at Government House. It remains to be seen whether the army will keep its promises not to use violence or stage a coup.