Thailand prime minister says he will resign to quell unrest
Street protests after reelection created a crisis
BANGKOK -- Embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced yesterday he would resign in an effort to end months of demonstrations that have shaken Thailand, pledging to leave office as soon as a new parliament convenes.
In a brief evening address to the nation, a subdued Thaksin offered his apologies to the 16 million Thais who voted for him two days ago in snap elections boycotted by the main opposition parties, handing him what first appeared to be a third term.
But that victory was marred by a massive protest vote and failed to defuse an opposition movement that has repeatedly drawn tens of thousands of demonstrators into the streets of the capital demanding Thaksin's removal for alleged misconduct.
''I want all Thais to reunite," he said standing at a simple podium behind two microphones. ''We have no time to quarrel. I want to see Thai people unite and forget what has happened."
He said he was anxious to relinquish his office but would remain in power until a new prime minister was selected by parliament. Under Thai law, the new parliament should convene and begin that process by the beginning of next month. But the session cannot open until all 500 seats are filled, and 38 remain vacant after the weekend polls.
The national election commission announced yesterday it would hold new elections in those districts in two weeks. The main opposition parties will be eligible to contest these races, which should help ease the process of filling the vacancies.
Thaksin's pledge to resign marked a stunning reversal of fortune for a man who had aspired to be Southeast Asia's premier statesman and only last year became the first elected prime minister in his country's history to complete a term and then be reelected to a second one. His triumph last year on a wave of rural support was so overwhelming that, for the first time, a Thai leader could govern without forming a coalition.
But this former policeman turned mobile telephone tycoon alienated many in the capital with his autocratic approach. When allegations that he had improperly enriched himself in a telecommunications deal surfaced three months ago, his support among Bangkok's influential middle class quickly crumbled.
During his abruptly scheduled speech, Thaksin, 56, appealed for an end to the crisis that has shaken Thailand after his family sold its business empire to a Singapore state company for $1.9 billion in January. He has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the deal.
''Let's clean up our house and stop the chaos," he said without any of the combativeness that long has been his leadership style.
He added that national reconciliation was of particular priority this year because it marks the 60th anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's accession to the Thai throne. The king is widely revered in the country and, though rarely involved in politics, is a symbol of domestic peace.
Speculation had mounted earlier in the day that Thaksin was preparing to quit after his office disclosed he was to pay a private, afternoon call on the monarch. Government officials provided no details about his visit, calling it a routine audience scheduled every six weeks to brief the king and seek his advice.
But Thaksin's trip to the beachfront Klaikangwon Palace, located 120 miles south of the capital, came one day after he raised the possibility on a television talk show he might step aside for the sake of national reconciliation. To do so, he must tender his resignation to the king.
Thaksin's aides described his planned resignation as a break from politics, leaving open the possibility that he might later return to elected office.
The prime minister did not detail his plans for the future. But politicians and political analysts said they expect he will continue to play a powerful role behind the scenes because he remains the dominant force in the country's largest party. He was the founder of the Thais Love Thais party, which will hold a commanding majority in the new parliament, and he remains one of the country's richest men.
Although Thaksin did not name a successor, discussions inside his party have already focused on several of his loyal lieutenants. In particular, the media and political analysts have focused on Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, a marketing specialist who also serves as commerce minister.
Somkid, who holds a doctorate in business management from Northwestern University, is a longtime confidant, having previously served as Thaksin's adviser when he was still a Cabinet minister in a prior government. He is considered by many in the public to be uncontroversial and relatively clean compared to some other party insiders.