BANGKOK - Thailand's prime minister says she is open to negotiations to defuse the country's political crisis, but remains unwilling to bow to her opponents’ demands to turn over the government to an unelected council. Yingluck Shinawatra also says the country's influential military will remain neutral in the standoff.
Bangkok's street rallies, which began weeks ago, have escalated into increasingly violent confrontations as protest leaders vow to topple the government this week.
Outside the prime minister's offices, police fired rubber bullets, tear gas canisters and deployed water cannons to contain the protesters.
Despite the chaos at some rally sites, business in the city largely continued unimpeded Monday and most government workers appeared to ignore the opposition's call for a strike.
But demonstrators remain committed to their cause. Protester Watcharapon Vichayathanatom, says the fact that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s party won an election landslide in 2011 is meaningless.
She said the prime minister’s election resulted from vote buying and buying the votes of politicians. So she may have won the election but millions of people have now come out, so she cannot say any longer that she has the majority of votes.
Yingluck said the opposition is neither asking for her resignation nor for the dissolution of parliament, but rather that the prime minister’s power be returned to the people.
“I don’t know how we can proceed with this offer because this offer does not exist under the practice of this constitutional law,” Yingluck said.
To some of the protesters, such as Raewat Pampradit, people power - although not clearly defined - is the only solution. He said power must be returned to the people and a people’s council established.
Thailand has been politically unstable for seven years since Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was deposed in a military coup. But the governing party has won every election since 2001.
Chulalongkorn University political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak said the prime minister finds herself in a tight corner even though what the opposition proposes is likely not acceptable to a majority of the electorate.
“It’s a kind of civilian coup led by the protest movement backed by the Democrat Party machinery and representing many minority voters who have been losing the elections in Thailand. They have become fed up, disillusioned with the election system and Thailand electoral democracy,” said Thitinan.
Democracy has long been fragile here with the military conducting 18 coups since the end of absolute monarchy rule in 1932.
Yingluck said the generals will remain neutral. But many observers believe the military will ultimately be the deciding factor, in the days ahead, in whether this government survives.