Thailand opposition urges delay to elections

Thailand's opposition leader and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva speaks during a news conference at a hotel in Bangkok, 3 May 2014 Abhisit Vejjajiva said the government should step down and be replaced with an interim cabinet

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The leader of Thailand's opposition has called for elections scheduled for July to be pushed back by up to six months.

In a 10-point package of proposals, Abhisit Vejjajiva said the prime minister and her government should resign, allowing an interim cabinet to oversee a referendum on reforms.

A government minister has rejected the proposals as unconstitutional.

Thailand has been in political deadlock since anti-government protests began in Bangkok in November 2013.

Ms Yingluck's government announced the 20 July polls after a previous snap election in February was declared unconstitutional.

The ruling Pheu Thai party had been expected to win the February vote. However, the opposition boycotted the polls and protesters disrupted voting.

At the height of the anti-government demonstrations, protesters shut down key road junctions and blockaded government ministries. Their number has since declined.

'Breathing space'
File photo: A member of the pro-government "red shirt" group holds a picture of Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a rally in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok, 5 April 2014 Ms Yingluck's supporters have held rallies showing their support for the government

On Saturday, Mr Abhisit said his opposition Democrat party would not contest July's polls.

Analysis

Abhisit Vejjajiva says he wants to help Thailand avoid a slide into violence with his 10-point plan. But there will be strong objections.

First he is offering this as an all-or-nothing package. No discussion. If the government does not like it, he will abandon it.

Second he wants the prime minister and her cabinet to resign immediately, before next week's expected verdict by the Constitutional Court on one of the cases against her. It is very unlikely her side would take such a step so quickly, if at all.

Third, there will be legal objections to Ms Yingluck's replacement by an appointed prime minister, even for just a few months, as unconstitutional and undemocratic.

Mr Abhisit also wants his proposed reform council to include the hard-line People's Democratic Reform Committee anti-government movement, but not the government's own supporters.

"We need breathing space, we need a cooling down period before we go to elections, given the kind of violence that is happening around the country," he told the BBC.

"In my discussions with the Election Commission, with other political parties, none of them seriously believes that we can head into elections [in July] and get an outcome different from what happened earlier in the year," he added.

However, Education Minister Chaturon Chaiseng told the BBC Mr Abhisit's proposals were unconstitutional, and impossible for the government to accept.

The idea of appointing an unelected government would have the same effect as launching a military coup, he added.

Jarupong Ruangsuwan, leader of the ruling Pheu Thai party, also told Reuters the plan would "only increase divisions in Thai society".

The main proposals in the opposition's 10-point plan are:

  • July's planned elections are delayed. A reform council drafts a plan of reforms, which are sent for a national referendum
  • The current government resigns and a non-partisan interim government is appointed
  • Following the national referendum, new elections are held
  • The new elected government must carry out the reform plans. A fresh election will then be held within a year

Mr Abhisit acknowledged that he and his Democrat party were partly responsible for the political mess Thailand was in, and said he was offering a way out, the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok reports.

Ms Yingluck faces a court verdict next week which could result in her being barred from politics for five years, a result her supporters say they would view as tantamount to a coup, our correspondent adds.

Ms Yingluck and Pheu Thai remain very popular in rural areas.

However, her opponents, who are mainly urban and middle class, allege that her brother, ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, controls her administration.

They also say that Thailand's democracy has been corrupted by money.

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