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Thai opposition party to boycott February elections

Opposition party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva (center) said the Feb. 2 elections would be the “same old power grab” in Thailand by the governing party and its allies.

Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images

Opposition party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva (center) said the Feb. 2 elections would be the “same old power grab” in Thailand by the governing party and its allies.

BANGKOK — Thailand’s main opposition party said Saturday that it would boycott national elections scheduled for February, strengthening its alliance with the tens of thousands of antigovernment protesters who have rallied on the streets of Bangkok for the past month.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the Democrat Party, which is Thailand’s oldest political party and has its power base in the country’s old moneyed elite, said that politics was at a “failed stage” and that the elections would be the “same old power grab” by the governing party and its allies.

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“The election on Feb. 2 is not the solution for the country,” Abhisit, a former prime minister, said after meeting with party leaders Saturday. “It will not lead to reform.”

The Democrat Party and the protesters are deeply frustrated by the electoral power and influence of Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon who founded the country’s most successful political movement and whose sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is prime minister. They accuse Thaksin of subverting democracy through corruption and populist policies.

The government counters that the opposition is afraid of elections because it will lose, a calculation supported by many scholars who say the ruling Pheu Thai Party has created a strong base with its policies.

Chaturon Chaisang, the education minister and a senior member of the governing party, accused the Democrat Party of “setting conditions for a possible coup d’état.” The last time the Democrats boycotted elections was in 2006, another period of political turmoil, which culminated with a coup against Thaksin.

The current political crisis, which comes during the high season for tourism in Thailand and a fragile time for the Thai economy, has brought the military back to the forefront of politics. Protesters are openly asking for the military’s backing, and military leaders have helped arrange meetings between the government and its detractors.

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The head of the army, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, said Friday that the crisis “must be solved through political means,” and warned of “battles between people” if political differences are not resolved.

The announcement of the election boycott came on the eve of a large demonstration planned for Sunday, the latest in a series of marches that have drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters. Organizers have also hinted they might try to disrupt the registration of election candidates, which begins Monday.

The protests, which started Oct. 31, have drawn crowds as large as 200,000 people. The government’s response has been mostly restrained, and Yingluck dissolved the lower house of Parliament earlier this month to try to end the crisis.

At the height of the protests several weeks ago, demonstrators took over some government buildings. They have since ceded control of the buildings but have not stopped the marches.

The boycott builds on the protesters’ call for “reform before elections,” an ambitious plan beyond the scope of the Thai Constitution.

Suthep Thaugsuban, the charismatic leader of the protests, has called for the creation of an unelected legislature called a People’s Council that would be partly composed of citizens from various professions and partly appointed by Suthep and other protest leaders.

He hopes that such a council would pass new electoral laws, end the longstanding practice of vote buying, overhaul the police force, allow any citizen to bring corruption charges against government ministers and other senior officials, and abolish the populist policies that have made Thaksin’s political movement so popular in the northern half of the country.

“When everything is settled,” Suthep said last week, “we will go back to elections.”

The prime minister, who called the February elections this month in an attempt to end the protests, has rejected the demands.

Earlier on Saturday, she proposed a “reform assembly,” so far vaguely defined, that would be formulated after the elections.

Yingluck has spent most of the past week in election mode, visiting the populous northern and northeastern parts of the country. Many voters, especially the less affluent, are grateful for policies such as universal health care and an increase in the minimum wage.

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