BANGKOK — Buoyed by an election boycott called by Thailand’s main opposition party, the head of the country’s anti-government protest movement vowed Sunday to hound caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra “until she is dead or until she leaves” office.
Addressing supporters after a day of rallies and marches all over Bangkok involving more than 100,000 people, Suthep Thaugsuban issued a series of threats to try to achieve his group’s goal of forcing Yingluck to step down and make way for a non-elected interim government before a snap election she has called for Feb. 2. The main opposition Democrat Party announced Saturday that it would boycott the polls.
Suthep’s so-called People’s Democratic Reform Committee says forcing Yingluck from office is necessary to purge corruption and money politics.
The protest movement, launched in late October, has effectively returned Thailand to a state of political instability, a condition from which it has fitfully suffered since 2006, when Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was deposed as prime minister by a military coup after large street demonstrations accusing him of corruption and abuse of power.
“Because Yingluck clings to her prime minister’s seat, we must come out to chase her,” Suthep told supporters Sunday night. “We will keep chasing her until she is dead or until she leaves.”
A group of protesters demonstrated briefly outside Yingluck’s Bangkok home earlier Sunday, but she was not home. She has spent recent days in Thailand’s north and northeast, her political strongholds.
Suthep called for his followers to gather outside the stadium where election candidates are supposed to register starting Monday. He hinted strongly that the group would try to disrupt the process.
“After we finish eating, we will prepare ourselves to sleep in front of the election registration areas starting tonight,” he said. “Wherever they relocate the registration site to, we will follow to express our opposition.”
While he said the protesters would stay outside the actual registration venues and not attack anything, he declared to would-be candidates, “If you want to apply for candidacy, you must walk past our feet first.”
The group applied a similar approach several weeks ago when its mobs forced their way into government office compounds. In several cases, they waged pitched street battles with police, with bloodshed avoided only when the government decided to give ground and allow the premises to be temporarily occupied.
Suthep vowed that if the election still goes ahead on Feb. 2, “We will shut down the entire country and no one will vote.”
If the state Election Commission fails to act according to his group’s demands, he said, “They are the same as the Thaksin regime.” The protesters say Yingluck is a proxy for Thaksin and that Thai politics are hopelessly corrupt under Thaksin’s continuing influence.
Thaksin’s supporters say he is disliked by Bangkok’s elite because he has shifted power away from the traditional ruling class.
Suthep called Yingluck “shameless,” accusing her of having “no legal or political legitimacy.”
Dismissing her claims to legally running the government, Suthep declared, “If you continue to say this, I will condemn you every day until you are forced to hide in a toilet.”
Yingluck on Saturday formally proposed a plan for making political reforms following the election. It included having election candidates take an oath to support the creation of a reform council immediately after taking office; having the council’s representatives come from all walks of life at local and national levels; and mandating that the council finish its work within two years.
The Democrats, who are closely allied with the protest movement, also led an election boycott in 2006 that helped pave the way for the coup against Thaksin.
Thaksin’s opponents and followers have vied for power since the coup, sometimes violently. But Thaksin and his allies have won every national election since 2001, thanks to his support from the urban and rural poor who benefited from his populist programs.