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Amid Threats of More Protests, Thailand's Premier to Step Down

A day after declaring he'd won snap elections and would stay in power, Thaksin says he'll resign.

April 05, 2006|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

BANGKOK, Thailand — Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, faced with the threat of continuing public protests against his leadership, announced Tuesday that he would resign his post despite his party's victory in parliamentary elections Sunday.

The surprise announcement was an abrupt turnaround for Thaksin, who had sought for months to maintain power despite allegations that he had abused his position to enrich himself and his family.

"I am sorry that I will not accept the prime minister post," Thaksin said in a nationally televised address. "We have no time to quarrel. I want to see Thai people unite and forget what has happened."

On Monday, Thaksin had declared victory in the parliamentary elections and seemed unfazed by an opposition boycott that drew support from 10 million voters. But Tuesday evening, hours after meeting with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thaksin announced his resignation.

The king, who has reigned for nearly 60 years, has intervened to resolve previous political crises, but it was unclear whether he played a part in Thaksin's resignation. Thaksin had said in February, "If his majesty whispers to me and says 'Thaksin, you should go,' I will immediately pay respect ... and quit."

Thaksin said Tuesday night that he would remain as caretaker prime minister until a new government could be formed, a process clouded by uncertainty because of the boycott's success in preventing 38 parliamentary seats from being filled.

Thaksin has strong support from rural voters, but opposition to his rule had grown among educated urban voters after the tax-free sale to Singapore of his family's $1.9-billion stake in the Shin Corp. telecommunications company he founded.

Thaksin, a billionaire former police officer who has led Thailand for more than five years, had hoped to regain legitimacy by calling snap elections three years early.

In announcing his resignation, Thaksin defended himself against criticism that he had profited from his position.

"For the last five years I have worked very hard," he said. "I have tried to do everything for the country. I did everything for the country, not for myself."

Thaksin's departure was welcomed by opposition leaders, who had said they would halt their daily demonstrations if the prime minister stepped aside. But some questioned his continuing role as leader of his Thais Love Thais party, which won every parliamentary seat in which there was a winner except for one, preliminary returns show.

The opposition refused to field any candidates in the elections and urged supporters to go to the polls and mark their ballots for no one. The strategy helped bring about Thaksin's departure but handed his party lopsided control of parliament if the elections stand.

Even with Thaksin's departure, Thailand's political crisis continues.

According to the constitution, parliament must convene within 30 days of the elections. But the charter also requires that all seats be filled before the legislature can meet.

The Election Commission has called for immediate elections in the 38 districts where the boycott prevented any candidate from winning and has ruled that opposition candidates can run. But if the opposition agrees to take part in these elections, its member parties could end up as part of a parliament in which Thais Love Thais holds more than 90% of the seats.

Opposition leaders said they were considering their next move.

Thaksin will continue to be a member of parliament and, as party leader, will play a key role in choosing his successor.

Publisher Sondhi Limthongkul, a former Thaksin ally now one of his chief opponents, warned that the opposition might resume protests if Thaksin did not give up his post by the end of April or if he attempted to rule from behind the scenes.

Thaksin, who styled himself as Thailand's CEO, was criticized by opponents for his autocratic style, his efforts to control the media and the military's brutal suppression of an Islamic insurgency in southern Thailand.

In his speech to the nation, Thaksin said he wanted to end the country's political turmoil before June, when the king is scheduled to mark his 60th year on the throne with a huge celebration expected to draw dignitaries from around the world.

"There will be many royal guests from all over the world. Why don't we clean up our house and end the messy confusion," Thaksin said.

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