WORLD / Asia-Pacific

Thaksin resigns to defuse Thai political crisis
Updated: 2006-04-05 08:52

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced he would step down to reunite the country, following weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation and a controversial election which the opposition boycotted.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra reacts to a question during a press conference at Government House in Bangkok. Thaksin announced he would step down to reunite the country, following weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation and a controversial election which the opposition boycotted.[AFP]
The former telecoms tycoon made the announcement in a 10-minute televised live statement just hours after meeting the nation's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and after his political rivals rejected any compromise.

"I will not accept the post of prime minister when the parliament convenes," said Thaksin.

"My reason for not accepting the post of prime minister is because this year in an auspicious year for the king, whose 60th anniversary on the throne is just 60 days away," he said.

"I beg all Thais to sacrifice for the king. I apologize to my 16 million supporters that I cannot take the post of prime minister."

Thaksin said he would carry on as caretaker until a successor was chosen, and would remain a member of parliament and leader of the Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party.

He hugged his daughters and wept on their shoulders after the statement.

Protests demanding Thaksin's resignation began in February after his family made 1.9 billion dollars tax free from selling their shares in Shin Corp., the telecoms firm he founded before entering politics.

Tens of thousands demonstrated against the sale, alleging corruption and abuse of power, in near-daily rallies in the capital Bangkok.

A key protest leader declared victory moments after the announcement.

"This is our victory. If we had not helped each other (in the protests), today would not have happened," Chamlong Srimuang said, although it was unclear whether the resignation would bring an end to the crisis.

Parliament cannot confirm a new prime minister until all 500 seats are filled pending by-elections in 39 districts where candidates were either disqualified or failed to get 20 percent of the vote, promising weeks of further uncertainty.

Chamlong's People's Alliance for Democracy had vowed to launch fresh protests if Thaksin did not quit, indicating the premier's gamble on early elections had failed.

"The election has proved his popularity has gone down. His legitimacy was greatly affected," said Panitan Wattanayagorn, a visiting professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Thaksin called the election three years early to head off the street protests against his rule. However, the opposition boycott undermined the credibility of the polls and ensured a huge protest vote against the premier.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra waves to cameras after arriving for a cabinet meeting at the Government House in Bangkok April 5, 2006. Digesting his stunning promise to quit, opponents of Thaksin tried to work out on Wednesday how best to ensure the exit of a leader they think is down but not out. [Reuters]

The more than 16 million votes he claimed fell a long way short of the 19 million people who gave him a landslide election win just one year earlier.

And an estimated 10 million people cast "no votes" or abstentions including a majority in Bangkok.

"The result of no-vote ballots, particularly in Bangkok, was a big surprise to him. It was too high and that could create a major crisis," Panitan said.

The leader of the Mahachon Party, which boycotted the polls, hailed Thaksin's decision.

"I am glad and I praise him for it. I wanted to hear this for a long time. Now everything will be solved," Sanan Kachornprasart told Thai television.

But the spokesman for the leading Democrat Party, Ong-art Klampaiboon, said more needed to be done to heal the political divide.

"It will help the current political deadlock on a certain level, but not entirely, because the situation has dragged on for some time," he told Thai television.

The protracted crisis has cast a cloud over one of the region's most dynamic economies. The government has already adjusted economic growth forecasts and the stock market has taken a hit.

Business leaders welcomed Thaksin's move.

"Now he can step down with dignity. It's the right decision for the economy that the uncertainty would be relieved somehow," said Kiatphong Noijaiboon, a vice chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries.