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Thai Opposition Leader Suggests National Unity Government to End Conflicts

  • Ron Corben

Thailand's opposition Puea Thai Party wants to see a government of national unity installed after elections this year to end the country's political divisions.

Former Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh says a national unity government is a way to end Thailand's cycle of political conflict that has contributed to eight weeks of protests in the Thai capital.

Mr. Chavalit, the chairman of the opposition Puea Thai Party, spoke with VOA Thursday, and said all parties need to join together to bring lasting peace.

"I recommend to go on a [unity] government - it means a government for all - a government that every party would join together to do things to correct things for the country. After every conflict people have to calm down and sit together, consulting, [and] discussing in detail," he said.

Mr. Chavalit's party is allied with the United Democratic Front against Dictatorship, which has led thousands of protesters in an occupation of central parts of Bangkok since March. The protesters, known as Red Shirts, had demanded that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call new elections immediately.

But this week, the UDD leaders agreed to take part in Mr. Abhisit's reconciliation plan, which includes elections in November, as well as social, political and economic reforms. Mr. Chavalit endorses that plan.

Puea Thai and the UDD are closely tied with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, now living overseas to avoid a two-year prison term for corruption. He was elected in 2001, promoting rural development programs.

Mr. Thaksin has widespread support from rural and urban poor and working class. But the middle class accused him of corruption. He was overthrown in a coup in 2006. Mr. Chavalit supports an amnesty for Mr. Thaksin.

Mr. Chavalit blames Thailand's political conflicts on divisions of wealth and power that have evolved since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Since then, the country has seen 18 military coups or attempted coups to remove elected or appointed prime ministers.

"Everything is coming from one big problem of Thailand that has never been solved since 1932, and that is a democratic system in Thailand," Chavalit added. "We want people's power, we want a government of the people by the people for the people, but we never had it."

The Red Shirts consider Mr. Abhisit's government illegitimate, because it was appointed by parliament after court rulings removed two elected pro-Thaksin governments in 2008.

At least 27 people have died and hundreds have been wounded in clashes between protesters and security forces since March. And the Red Shirt camp, in the center of a major commercial district, has forced hundreds of businesses to close and lay off workers.

UDD-backed candidates are expected to win elections this year. But many Thais and political analysts worry that will not end the country's political disputes, and will instead prompt a new cycle of protests and violence by the UDD's opponents in the urban middle class.