BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva proposed on Monday to hold an election on November 14 under a “reconciliation” plan aimed at ending a two-month political crisis that has paralyzed Bangkok and killed 27 people.
Abhisit, backed by Thailand’s royalist establishment, rejected a proposal last month by the mostly rural and urban poor “red shirt” protesters to end their occupation of Bangkok’s main commercial district in return for elections within three months.
He had previously said he would call a poll in December.
“This is quite constructive,” Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader, told Reuters. “So we will be discussing the prime minister’s proposal seriously.”
The protesters, who broadly back ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, plan to discuss the proposal on Tuesday.
Another protest leader, Jatuporn Prompan, said he was encouraged by the offer but that it contrasted with recent military and government statements warning the red shirts to end their campaign.
Analysts say both sides want to be in power in September for two critical events — a reshuffle of the powerful military and police forces, and the passing of the national budget.
If Thaksin’s camp prevails and is governing at the time of the military reshuffle, analysts expect big changes including the ousting of generals allied with Thailand’s royalist elite, a prospect royalists fear could diminish the power of the monarchy.
“The game plan is for the government to make it appear this offer is reasonable. If the red shirts reject it, they’ll be seen as the unreasonable party and that will then give the government a chance to go after them,” said Roberto Herrera-Lim, an analyst at risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
“It doesn’t seem like much of a compromise,” he added. “This just shows how crucial the timeframe is and the importance of having that reshuffle of the military and police take place before an election. Judging by the goals of the red shirts, I don’t think they’ll go along with this.”
The British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit is under intense pressure to end the political stalemate that has choked off tourism, sparked foreign selling in Thai stocks and prompted the International Crisis Group to warn Thailand could slide into an “undeclared civil war.”
In a televised statement, Abhisit set five broad conditions for reconciliation that must be agreed before any election.
The monarchy, he said, should not be dragged into politics or “violated” — a condition that follows government accusations some red shirts aim to overthrow the monarchy.
The second condition calls for reforms to address social injustice. The third calls for an independent body to monitor media to ensure unbiased reporting.
The fourth is the setting up of a fact-finding committee to investigate recent political violence. And the fifth is a possible, unspecified constitutional amendment.
They were written in broad enough language to appeal across the political spectrum, suggesting the potentially contentious issue would likely be the date itself.
“No one is going to disagree with the five conditions. They are just decoration because that’s the language you use in any call for national reconciliation. But the point is that this is the first concrete offer from the government,” said Thanet Charoenmuang, a Chiangmai University political science professor.
“The ball is now in the red shirts’ court to see if they want something they can hold on to, get their victory and go home or keep pushing forward into an uncertain future.”
The red shirts say Abhisit lacks a popular mandate after coming to power in a controversial parliamentary vote 17 months ago and heading a coalition cobbled together with military help.
On Monday, thousands of the protesters remained in their 3 sq km (1.2 sq-mile) fortified encampment in Bangkok’s main shopping area, showing no signs of leaving despite the onset of monsoon rains.
Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd told reporters the security forces could use armored vehicles to disperse the protesters, but did not indicate when such a move might happen.
Thailand’s financial markets, closed for a market holiday on Monday, have underperformed regional peers since April 10, when the protest turned deadly with a gunbattle in the heart of old Bangkok that killed 25 people and wounded more than 800.
Over the past month, the benchmark SET index lost 3.1 percent, compared with a 1.1 percent rise in Asia’s markets outside of Japan, making Thailand Asia’s poorest performer as foreign investors sold $155 million of Thai stocks.
The finance minister said last week the protests could cut growth by 2 percentage points if they continued all year.
Additional reporting by Vithoon Amorn and Martin Petty; Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Alex Richardson