The Thai prime minister Samak Sundaravej sought a peaceful solution today to end a week of anti-government protests, after again rejecting calls for him to resign or hold new elections. Thousands of protesters remained camped at the main government complex in central Bangkok, after storming through the gates seven days ago accusing Mr Samak of acting as a puppet for ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
The prime minister called an emergency session of parliament yesterday, but the debate failed to produce any plan for ending the protests. Hours after the debate ended, a small explosion went off during the night at a police traffic post near the Government House compound, but no one was injured and the blast caused only minor damage, police said. During the debate, the opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva suggested that Mr Samak dissolve parliament and hold new elections to end the crisis, a proposal that the prime minister angrily rejected.
"Your solutions do not show that you want to keep democracy. Why are the only solutions house dissolution and resignation? Why can't we choose the third option, which is to show the world that we maintain our democracy," he said. The protests had erupted in clashes with riot police on Friday, causing dozens of minor injuries. Activists had also taken their campaign to the provinces, closing key regional airports on Friday, including the nation's second-busiest hub on the resort isle of Phuket.
By yesterday, normal air services had resumed, aviation authorities said. But more than half of the kingdom's rail service has been suspended since Thursday as workers have called in sick to support the protests. The leaders of the so-called People's Alliance for Democracy (Pad) have already said that they would not accept a parliamentary solution to the crisis. In addition to demanding that Mr Samak resign, they want an overhaul of Thailand's system of government, saying only 30 per cent of seats in parliament should be elected, with the rest appointed.
Pad gathers most of its support from Bangkok's traditional elite and a portion of the middle class. Its leaders openly disparage the merit of votes cast by the nation's rural poor, who have thrown their support behind Mr Thaksin and now Mr Samak. The former premier was toppled by royalist generals in a military coup in 2006, and is now living in exile in Britain to avoid corruption charges at home.
But his allies still fill many top seats in government, and Mr Samak won elections in December by campaigning as Mr Thaksin's proxy. Few Thais believe new elections would mend the basic split in Thai society between the traditional urban elite and the rural masses. "Nobody enjoys elections," opposition leader Mr Abhisit told Mr Samak in parliament yesterday. "I believe (new elections) would hurt me more, because you will come back as prime minister."
With no end to the crisis in sight, the Bangkok Post warned in an editorial that the situation could worsen. "Since he has shown neither determination nor compassion in facing this test, he makes it seem that a troubled ending is inevitable," it said. "The sad truth is that the Samak administration now seems intent only on surviving." * AFP