Wally Santana/AP
Antigovernment demonstrators dance to music during an early morning rock and roll
session outside Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Sept. 1, 2008. (AP)

Thai PM Refuses to Negotiate With Protesters

September 05, 2008 02:05 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
In response to demonstrators who have held his offices for 11 days, Samak Sundaravej has proposed holding a public referendum to determine if he should stay or go.

Thai PM Considering Lifting Emergency Rule

In a special radio address broadcast Thursday, Samak said that he would protect democracy against those who wish to bring “anarchy” to Thailand. “I am not resigning, I will not dissolve parliament. I have to stay in order to preserve democracy and to protect the monarchy,” he said.

Nonetheless, Samak said Friday that he is considering ending the emergency rule that he imposed on the country earlier this week in response to a violent clash between government supporters and protesters seeking to oust Samak from office. “Yes, I am thinking about that,” he said, according to Forbes.

Samak’s plan to hold a public referendum has won little support from the public, according to Reuters, and has been criticized as a stalling tactic. However, despite the Thai Senate “overwhelmingly” passed the first reading of the public referendum bill after just two hours of debate on Friday. A government spokesman has said that if the Senate approves the final bill, the referendum could begin within 30 days.

Protest leaders say that they will not abandon their three-month-old bid to get rid of Samak, and plan to continue occupying the prime minister’s official compound. The Associated Press reports that the Government House “has turned into a cross between a refugee camp and a village fairground,” with thousands of protesters enjoying amenities such as free food and massages. Samak has been working out of various other locations, due to the demonstrators.

“I am outside and can’t work properly,” Samak said during his speech on Thursday, which was broadcast from a sound stage set up on the House lawn.

Background: ‘Protesters Vow to Fight On’

Earlier this week, the demonstrators said that they would continue their protests despite the imposition of emergency rule. “We will never change our stance,” said protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul to Bloomberg. “Samak has to go.”

The prime minister declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, calling it the “softest means available” to end clashes between protesters of his government and his supporters, which have been going on for a week. One person died and 43 have been injured so far.

While the declaration gives the military the power to restore order and gives the government the authority to suspend civil liberties, Thai Army Chief Anupong Paochinda said on Tuesday that the crisis will not be resolved by a military coup. “The door to use force is closed. We must find a solution through the legal and parliamentary systems,” he said. reports that a planned strike by unions on Wednesday in support of the protesters may worsen the weeklong standoff between government supporters and about 5,000 members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

Reactions: ‘Bad for Business’

Business leaders in Thailand and abroad criticized Sundaravej’s declaration, saying that it would hurt investment and business in the country. “The declaration of emergency make investors’ confidence worse. It has also raised concerns over whether the situation in Bangkok is as bad as in war-zone countries like Iraq,” said Santi Vilassakdanont, the chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI).

Meanwhile, the Thai baht—the country’s currency—fell to its lowest level in a year after the announcement of the state of emergency. Stocks were also at a 19-month low, while government bonds fell after previous advances.

Several governments have issued advisories against travel to Bangkok, including Singapore and South Korea, raising concerns about the nation’s tourism industry. The U.S. Embassy warned Americans on Tuesday about the possibility of political violence in the country. “We wish to remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence,” the U.S. Embassy said. “American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.”

Key Player: Samak Sundaravej

Sundaravej grew up in an aristocratic family and graduated from Thammasat University with a degree in law. Before becoming prime minister, he served in the interior ministry, was one of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s deputy prime ministers and was governor of Bangkok for four years. His rule, which began in January 2008, has been marked by protests, a poor economy and rising inflation. He has also come under criticism for his close ties with and support of ousted former leader Shinawatra. Samak’s People Power Party (PPP) was formed from the remnants of Thaksin’s Thak Rak Thai party.

Related Topic: ‘Former Thai Prime Minister Flees Corruption Charges’


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