BANGKOK (AP) — The leader of Thailand’s anti-government movement pushed Tuesday for the appointment of an unelected prime minister in a news conference televised from the government’s compound, which protesters have seized.
Suthep Thaugsuban urged the Senate to name a new prime minister, arguing that the caretaker leader, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, has no legitimacy. Niwattumrong was selected by the Cabinet last week after the Constitutional Court removed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for nepotism in a ruling that many viewed as politically motivated.
The government wants elections planned for July to go ahead, but Suthep insists that an unelected prime minister must implement political reforms first.
The Government House compound has been mostly unused for the past six months for fear of the protesters, who have threatened to capture Cabinet ministers. Last week, soldiers guarding the buildings allowed protesters to enter, saying the move was to avoid possible violence.
More than 20 people have died and hundreds have been injured in political violence since November.
Suthep in recent days has been trying to project an image of power and influence while portraying the government as weak and without legal standing. Previous tactics of his People’s Democratic Reform Committee have included violent street battles with police and occupation of government offices.
On Monday, Suthep led thousands of his followers to Parliament, where senators sharing his goals invited him to take part in an informal meeting on his proposal for an appointed prime minister. He sat in an ornate chair side by side with new Senate Speaker Surachai Liengboonlertchai, who is seen as sympathetic to his views.
He was given VIP treatment despite being under indictment for murder for his role in the deadly suppression of street demonstrations in 2010 when he was deputy prime minister. Police are also seeking to charge him with insurrection, terrorism and other crimes for leading the current protests.
Suthep on Tuesday spoke from a high-ceilinged room that is normally used for state visits.
He repeated his contention that the Senate has the right to name a new prime minister, even though Thai law does not specifically say so. His argument is that there is a political vacuum, and that in the absence of a clear legal solution, a catch-all clause in the constitution allows the Senate to act.
The lower house of Parliament would normally select a new prime minister, but it was dissolved late last year when Yingluck called early elections. Suthep claims the Senate can act in its place.
Suthep’s protest group disrupted February elections, causing a court to invalidate the polls.
Thailand’s long-running political crisis began in 2006 when Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, remains highly popular among the rural poor in the north and northeast, and parties controlled by him have won every national election since 2001. The protesters, aligned with the opposition Democrat Party, say they want to remove all traces of his political machine from politics.