Thailand’s prime minister has announced she will dissolve the lower house of Parliament and call early elections in an attempt to calm the country’s deepening political crisis.
The surprise move came as 100,000 protesters vowing to overthrow her government marched through the streets of Bangkok for a “final showdown.”
It was not clear if Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s move would satisfy protesters who say they will not settle for her ouster but instead want to rid Thailand of her politically powerful family’s influence.
Yingluck appeared emotional and her voice shook as she spoke in a nationally televised address Monday morning.
“After listening to opinions from all sides, I have decided to request a royal decree to dissolve Parliament,” Yingluck said, breaking into regular programming. “There will be new elections according to the democratic system.”
She said the Election Commission would set a date “as soon as possible” and that she would remain in a caretaker capacity until the election of a new prime minister. As a formality, the king must approve the dissolution after which elections must be held within 60 days.
Thailand has been plagued by political turmoil since the army toppled Yingluck’s brother Thaksin in a 2006 coup. The protesters accuse Yingluck of serving as a proxy for her brother who lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.
In broad terms, the conflict pits the Thai elite and the educated middle-class against Thaksin’s power base in the countryside, which benefited from populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.
Protest leaders called for a peaceful march Monday but many feared the day could end violently when demonstrators converge from nine locations on Yingluck’s office at Government House. More than 60 Thai and international schools in Bangkok have closed as a precaution.
As Yingluck spoke, long columns of protesters paralysed traffic on major Bangkok boulevards. Police estimated that about 100,000 protesters were out on the streets of the Thai capital.
Leaders of the movement made no immediate reaction to Yingluck’s announcement but many protesters dismissed the development as insufficient.
“We will keep on protesting because we want her family to leave this country,” said Boonlue Mansiri, one of tens of thousands who joined a 20-kilometre march to Yingluck’s office.
The sentiment was the same across town, where protesters filled a major four-lane road in the city’s central business district, waving flags, blowing whistles and holding a huge banner that said, “Get Out Shinawatra.”
Asked about the dissolution of Parliament, one middle-aged woman in the crowd said, “It is too late” and “It’s not enough.”
“At the end of the day, we are going to win,” said the woman who identified herself as Paew. “What happens now? Don’t worry. We will figure it out.”
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said he would announce his reaction once his march reached Government House. Suthep has repeatedly said that calling fresh elections would not be enough to end the conflict. He has demanded that a non-elected “people’s council” lead the country instead, an idea that has been criticised as utopian and undemocratic.
“We will rise up. We will walk on every street in the country. We will not be going home again,” Suthep said Sunday. His supporters on Monday appeared to abandon the two places they had occupied for more than a week – the Finance Ministry and part of a vast government complex for more than a week. “The people who will be going home empty-handed are those in the Thaksin regime.”