'Mediator' Abhisit vows to skip next poll

'Mediator' Abhisit vows to skip next poll
Thai anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (centre) collecting donations from supporters at a rally in Bangkok on Wednesday.

THAILAND - Thai opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has been a curious sight this week, peddling a mediation proposal to key political players worn down by six months of protests and legislative limbo.

He is acting alone, or so says his Democrat Party, which had accelerated the crisis by boycotting the now-annulled Feb 2 general election.

Yesterday, in a bid to show resolve, Abhisit promised not to contest the July 20 election if Thailand's warring parties agree to his plan, details of which have not been made public.

Meanwhile, militant elements on both sides of the political divide are spoiling for a fight, making it unlikely that the coming election will be any smoother than the first.

On Monday, when Thais commemorate the coronation of revered monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej, anti-government protesters from the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) plan to mass in Bangkok's historical district to pledge allegiance to the King, a first step in their "ultimate uprising" to unseat the caretaker Puea Thai government.

That same day, pro-government camps will hold a mass rally on Bangkok's outskirts.

Leaders say the rally will last for as long as it takes to warn off powerful forces trying to pry Puea Thai from its already tenuous grip on power.

Yesterday, rebellion charges were filed against 58 protest leaders.

Already, July 20 seems almost like a sideshow. No one is hopeful that it will pull Thailand out of its deadlock.

"The election is still a dream. It's almost impossible, if the PDRC... continues fighting," says former human rights commissioner Jaran Ditapichai, a Puea Thai candidate in the Feb 2 election.

PDRC supporters disrupted voting and prevented candidates from registering in 28 out of the 375 constituencies, giving the Constitutional Court enough grounds to annul the poll in March.

The protesters have not ruled out doing the same if their demands for reform before elections are not met. PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban gave the surest sign on Wednesday night, declaring that "we refuse to bargain with the devil that is the Thaksin regime".

The crisis is the latest flare-up in an eight-year-old tussle for power between royalist elites and the urban middle class on one side and camps aligned with former premier Thaksin Shinawatra on the other.

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup but is seen to wield inordinate control over the country through Puea Thai and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, the caretaker prime minister.

A key question is whether the Democrats will rejoin the July 20 polls. The party's deputy secretary-general, Mr Sirichok Sopha, was non-committal when contacted by The Straits Times yesterday.

The party has not even looked at Abhisit's reform proposal in detail, he said, adding: "We will have to look at the road map and see if all parties agree to it."

While, security in Bangkok has improved since protesters rolled back their street blockades, the fragile peace could shatter if Ms Yingluck, facing separate charges, is thrown out of office.

The PDRC will take it as a cue to seize power, triggering a robust response from pro-government supporters. The July 20 election - if it takes place at all - will look anything but normal.

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