Abhisit asks government to step down
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Abhisit asks government to step down

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has asked the caretaker government to resign, paving the way for the Senate to quickly appoint a "neutral" government as the first step in a movement toward national reform.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva addresses a news conference on Saturday to outline steps to take the country out of the political crisis. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

But the Pheu Thai Party on Saturday rejected the proposal as unworkable and anti-democratic, while Mr Abhisit's erstwhile allies in the anti-government movement say they are the only ones qualified to carry out reforms.

In the first detailed presentation of his proposals to end the months-long political impasse, Mr Abhisit outlined 10 steps to take the country out of the crisis. The first is for the Election Commission (EC) to delay the royal decree for a July 20 poll.

The EC would then revise its rules to clamp down more forcefully on election fraud, especially vote-buying, deception and destructive populist policies, he said.

In order for reforms to take shape, caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra must pave the way by either leading the cabinet to resign en masse or removing all ministers first and then resigning herself, said Mr Abhisit.

Chaturon Chaisaeng, a senior Pheu Thai member and caretaker education minister, rejected Mr Abhisit's proposal for the Senate to be involved in the process.

He said it was a hallmark of "dictatorship" to take the choice of a prime minister out of the hands of the people.

"Anyone holding on to democratic principles  ... will find it hard to swallow," he said.

"The resignation of the prime minister and the cabinet will not take place for sure. Even if Yingluck resigned, I would not."

And even though Mr Abhisit sees the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) playing a major role in drafting reforms, it rejected what a spokesman called a "politician's proposal". It said it would press ahead with its no-compromise campaign for a "people's government". Specifically, PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban, representing "the people", would decide who the next prime minister should be.

Mr Abhisit said that for the plan to go ahead, the government must step down before the Constitutional Court rules in a case that many observers expect to go against Ms Yingluck. That ruling, on the improper transfer of a former National Security Council chief, is expected this month.

"My proposal depends on Yingluck, who needs to decide on it before the pending court decisions," he said.

The early exit of the government would then allow the Senate to choose a "neutral" non-politician prime minister and cabinet ministers. The idea, said Mr Abhisit, is to create confidence and ensure transparency in preparations for reforms and a subsequent referendum.

He said the appointed government would have limited powers in overseeing the transition, as well as solving urgent problems. Those include the failed rice-pledging programme, which has cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of baht in losses even while some farmers have yet to be paid.

Once the neutral government is in place, the Reform Now Network would join with the PDRC to set a reform framework within 15-30 days and allow people to participate in the process, Mr Abhisit said.

With the support of all parties, a referendum would then be held on a clear reform proposal to let the people decide whether to accept it, a process that would take 90 days, he said.

After the reform proposal is endorsed in the referendum, a fresh election will be held within 45-60 days for a one-year, reform-oriented House of Representatives and government.

The new elected government would have normal powers but it must commit to the voter-approved reforms and complete them within 12 months. If it fails to do so, the EC would have the authority to disband the governing party.

Another election would then be held to form a normal government.

"Through my proposal today, we can move ahead immediately with reforms if all sides accept it," the former prime minister said.

"It's clear, has continuity and doesn't have legal complications. We can succeed in one year and six months. In 150 to 180 days, we'll have a free and fair election that is acceptable to all sides.

"We'll have a legitimate, nonpartisan interim government by the consent of all sides before the election and then we'll have an ad-hoc government that will be in power for one year after the polls."

Mr Abhisit himself has said that he personally would take a break from politics if his proposals are agreed on.

Other senior Pheu Thai figures quickly poured cold water on anything to do with an appointed government.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said the idea was impractical and undemocratic, and the public would not accept it. Varathep Ratanakorn, a caretaker PM's Office minister, said no existing laws supported the appointment of a nonpartisan prime minister and establishment of an interim government.

The Network of Students and People for Reform of Thailand (NSPRT), a hardline ally of the PDRC, also rejected Mr Abhisit's proposal.

NSPRT adviser Nittithorn Lamluea commended the Democrat Party leader's spirit but said he saw no plan for eradicating the influence of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the main goal of his group.

Election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, meanwhile, said his agency would continue to make preparations for an election on July 20 as the date had been agreed with the caretaker government.

The EC would leave the political problems for the government and the parties opposing it to sort out, he added.

While the initial response from both Mr Abhisit's erstwhile allies and opponents was negative, a legal scholar also raised constitutional concerns.

Verapat Pariyawong said the proposal was unconstitutional in four areas.

An interim government with limited power pending a national reform plan is at odds with the charter which calls for "secure and continuous government", he said.

As well, he said, the proposal for the Senate to appoint the interim government was tantamount to robbing the people of their power.

Mr Verapat also has problems with groups that are not elected or supported by the constitution, in this case the Reform Now Network and the PDRC, setting the reform guidelines.

As well, he said, allowing the EC to dissolve a party that fails to carry out the reforms goes beyond the normal system of checks and balances.

However, Mr Verapat supports Mr Abhisit’s proposal for the EC to improve its regulations to ensure fair and transparent elections.

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