- POSTED: 21 Dec 2013 13:43
- UPDATED: 21 Dec 2013 17:19
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Thailand's opposition on Saturday began talks on a possible boycott of snap elections in a crunch weekend for the crisis-gripped kingdom as protesters prepare to ramp up rallies aimed at toppling the government.
BANGKOK: Thailand's opposition on Saturday began talks on a possible boycott of snap elections in a crunch weekend for the crisis-gripped kingdom as protesters prepare to ramp up rallies aimed at toppling the government.
Democrat Party members, who resigned as MPs en masse to join the demonstrations, were greeted by hundreds of anti-government protesters urging them to snub the February 2 poll as they arrived at their headquarters in Bangkok.
The Thai capital has seen weeks of street marches, with protesters invading government buildings and gathering in their thousands in the latest eruption of political unrest in the turbulent nation, that prompted embattled premier Yingluck Shinawatra to call snap elections.
Demonstrators want to rid the country of Yingluck and the influence of her brother Thaksin -- an ousted billionaire ex-premier who is despised by a coalition of the southern Thai poor, Bangkok middle classes and elite.
They are calling for democracy to be suspended for an unelected "people's council" to be installed to enact reforms before a future vote.
Yingluck on Saturday offered to set up a body to implement reforms, in the latest olive branch to opponents, but she insisted the polls would go ahead.
"The government agrees that reform is needed and is willing to cooperate. We reaffirm that the reform process can go ahead alongside elections," she said in a televised address.
Analysts say the elections pose a grave dilemma for the Democrats -- Thailand's oldest party, which has not won an elected majority in more than two decades.
If it chooses to boycott the poll, it risks being excluded from the political process, while a decision to join will dismay protesters who have vowed to disrupt the vote.
Some 200 party members will participate in the meeting, said deputy leader Ongart Klampaiboon ahead of the talks, adding that he was uncertain how long the deliberations could go on for.
"I think the meeting will take sometime but I don't know how long. We will vote to reach our decision," he told AFP.
He said the party appeared to be split "50-50" on whether to participate in the election.
The Democrats on Friday sent a letter to other parties requesting a postponement of the polls because of the ongoing protests, Ongart said.
But the suggestion was rejected by the ruling Puea Thai, which is widely expected to win the election.
Initial party registration for the vote begins Monday and lasts until December 27.
A Democrat boycott in 2006 helped create the political uncertainty which heralded the military coup that ousted Thaksin, but observers have said a similar move this time could risk seriously damaging the party's future as a political entity.
The opposition meeting comes a day ahead of a planned major rally by the protesters, who are led by firebrand former Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban.
Suthep, who has vowed to rid Thailand of the "Thaksin regime", has dismissed the election, saying it will install another government allied to the divisive former premier.
He has appealed for army support, in a country which has seen 18 successful or attempted coups since 1932.
But the army has indicated it is unlikely to intervene directly this time.
Authorities this week froze bank accounts related to dozens of key protest figures, including Suthep, who is also facing an arrest warrant for insurrection linked to the ongoing political crisis.
Supporters were seen thrusting banknotes at Suthep as he marched through the capital in recent days to drum up support for Sunday's rally.
Demonstrators want Sunday's gathering to be bigger than earlier protests, which have drawn at least 150,000 supporters at their peak in some of the largest demonstrations for years in the politically-divided kingdom.
Thaksin, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for abuse of power, is loathed by the Bangkok middle classes and elites, who accuse him of using his electoral majority to attempt to consolidate power.
But he is adored by the mainly rural voters in his north and northeastern heartlands, who have helped him and his allies win every election since 2001.