Thai opposition undecided on election boycott
Thai anti-government protesters attend a rally at the Election Commission headquarters in Bangkok, on December 17, 2013
A boycott would likely plunge the kingdom deeper into turmoil, after weeks of street protests against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother Thaksin -- an ousted billionaire ex-premier who is despised by many among the Thai middle class and Bangkok elite.
Yingluck called the February 2 election after the opposition Democrat Party resigned en masse from parliament on December 8 to join the demonstrations, which have drawn tens of thousands to Bangkok's streets.
Protesters, who are still rallying but in greatly reduced numbers, reject new elections without widespread reform to end Thaksin's influence, which they say has corrupted the kingdom's political system.
They want to establish a "People's Council" to enact reforms before elections and have called on Thailand's powerful army to back their campaign.
Despite their support for the rallies, the Democrats are split "50-50" over whether to participate in polls, spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said at a party meeting Tuesday to elect new leaders.
A boycott -- which would echo the Democrats stance in 2006 that precipitated the army coup that ousted Thaksin -- would placate street protesters, he explained, but risked "long-term damage" to the party by stepping outside of the existing political process.
Conversely, participation would see the party "lose support of the protesters," he said.
"We don't have to rush into making a decision," he added, saying December 27 is the deadline for officially listing candidates for the polls.
Incumbent Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was re-elected unopposed at the meeting, which will also see a new executive committee formed.
New committee members were needed to replace Suthep Thaugsuban, who left his role as party deputy to lead the street protests, and the party secretary who also resigned.
"An election under the same regulations will produce the same parliament members," Suthep said in his nightly address late Monday, reiterating his demand for widespread reform before polls.
The Democrats draw on deep support among Thailand's Bangkok-based elite and middle class, who accuse the self-exiled Thaksin of years of vote-buying.
But they have not won an elected majority in more than two decades, and critics argue that the only "reforms" they are interested in are those which will propel them back to power.
Analysts say a boycott of the February elections will likely prolong the political turmoil and cripple the democratic process.
Thailand's Thaksin-aligned "Red Shirts" called Tuesday for the Democrat Party to run in the polls.
"If you boycott this election while our country is in crisis then you should not be a political party under democratic rule," movement chairwoman Thida Thavornseth told reporters.
Red Shirts have vowed to defend Yingluck's embattled government, raising the prospect of rival mass rallies if an election is held back.
Abhisit, a British-educated former prime minister, was indicted for murder last week in connection with a deadly military crackdown on mass protests by the Thaskin-aligned then opposition in Bangkok three years ago.
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