Foreign news agencies have given wide coverage of the mass rally marking the first anniversary of the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s marathon 193-day demonstration and the group’s plan to form its political party.
May 25th was the anniversary of the beginning of the PAD’s 193-day street protests last year to oust the government led by the People Power Party at the time. Tens of thousands of supporters gathered last night at the stadium at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus.
The gathering was aimed to celebrate the anniversary of the PAD movement. PAD supporters stood up, cheered, and gave resounding support for the idea of the PAD forming a political party. The AFP News Agency reported that the PAD has declared that it will form a new political party to push for new politics and lead Thailand to democracy.
Meanwhile, Reuter News Agency reported that PAD members have asked Sondhi Limthongkul, founder of the PAD, to be the leader of the party.
By Kittipong Soonprasert
Thai “yellow shirts” agree to form political party
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Members of Thailand’s “yellow shirt” movement, which paralyzed Bangkok’s airports by occupying them last year, agreed on Monday to form a new political party but did not rule out a return to street protests.
The extraparliamentary group, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), vowed to fight for a cleaner, more accountable “new politics.”
“The street movement will not stop after we set up our party. They will complement each other,” Suriyasai Katasila, a co-leader of the movement, told supporters.
Prolonged PAD protests led to the 2006 coup which ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, but demonstrations resumed after a pro-Thaksin party won post-coup elections in late 2007.
The PAD has stayed off the streets since the courts forced out the last pro-Thaksin government, paving the way for current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to form a new coalition.
Abhisit soon faced protests by pro-Thaksin “red shirts” who forced the cancellation of a major Asian summit in April and clashed with troops enforcing a state of emergency in Bangkok.
The latest unrest in Thailand’s nearly four-year-old political crisis has badly hurt tourism and dented investor confidence in a country already suffering from the global economic downturn.
Thailand’s economy slipped into its first recession in a decade in the first quarter, data showed on Monday, but analysts expected a pick up in coming quarters if there was no further political strife.
Politics could heat up again if the Abhisit government proceeds with rewriting the 2007 constitution, passed by a military-installed government after the coup.
The charter has been a source of political tension, criticized as a step back from the 1997 “People’s Charter,” which allowed for a fully elected house.
Abhisit is backing an all-party committee to look at reforms, but the PAD opposes any changes it says could allow Thaksin and his allies back into politics. Thaksin now lives in exile to avoid a two-year jail term on conflict of interest charges.
Some PAD members have urged Sondhi Limthongkul, a media maverick who led the first protests against his former friend Thaksin in 2005, to lead the new party.
After the red shirt protests were quelled in April, Sondhi suffered a head wound when his car was attacked by gunmen armed with automatic rifles.
He blamed some military officers who did not want him to clean up politics. Police have made no arrests so far.
Analysts said the PAD’s move into mainstream party politics suggested an election can’t be far off.
“If you want to be ready, you need to start your campaign by now,” said political analyst Sukhum Nualskul.
Bangkok Post columnist Veera Prateepchaikul said the PAD still had to clarify its agenda for the new party. “Few people have a clue what ‘new politics’ is about,” he wrote.
Others said the PAD’s adherence to street tactics did not bode well for a return to political stability.
“Thai politics will not benefit if a political party also has its own street movement,” said Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, a political analyst at the National Institute of Development Administration.
(Additional reporting by Chalathip Thirasoonthrakul; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Mark Trevelyan)
Thailand’s ‘Yellow Shirts’ form political party
BANGKOK – Thailand’s “Yellow Shirt” protest movement, which helped topple premier Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 and occupied Bangkok’s airports last year to oust his allies, formed a new political party Monday.
More than 30,000 supporters of the royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) dressed in their trademark coloured outfits cheered and clapped when leaders of the movement asked them whether they wanted them to join politics.
“We will work together to create a new politics which will lead to a real democracy with the King as head of state,” one of the movement’s key figures, Pibhop Dhongchai, told the crowd at a Bangkok stadium.
Another leader, Chamlong Srimaung, said PAD chiefs would form guidelines for the party within the next week to 10 days and would also have to choose a new name.
Newspaper reports said the group had also decided to change its colour scheme — worn as a sign of loyalty to the country’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej — to a mix of yellow and green.
The new party promises to be influential, with the potential to take votes from the same support base behind current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s shaky coalition ahead of elections that could be held by next year.
The movement was widely backed by the Bangkok-based elite and circles in the palace, military and bureaucracy who loathed the populist tycoon Thaksin.
The PAD’s decision to form a party comes just one month after its founder, media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul, was shot and wounded in an assassination attempt in Bangkok.
Sondhi set up the group in 2006 to oppose his former friend, then-prime minister Thaksin, holding huge rallies that opened the way for the military to topple Thaksin in a coup.
The PAD returned to the streets in 2008 after Thaksin’s allies won elections, eventually occupying Bangkok’s two main airports and stranding hundreds of thousands of travellers.
They backed down when a court ousted the pro-Thaksin government and then the Democrat party led by current premier Abhisit took power.
In Thailand’s colour-coded politics, rival “Red Shirts” mostly loyal to Thaksin forced the cancellation of a major Asian summit in April and then rioted for two days in Bangkok.
Agence France-Presse | 05/26/2009 12:28 AM