Embattled prime minister Samak Sundaravej called the political crisis in Thailand a shameful embarrassment for the country today, but vowed not to resign or dissolve parliament, saying it was his job to protect democracy.
Mr Samak vowed in a live radio broadcast that he would not bow to demands of anti-government protesters, a stance likely to inflame a national crisis that started on August 26 when thousands of activists occupied the grounds of his office compound.
“I am not resigning. I have to protect the democracy of this country,” said Mr Samak, who has not been able to enter his office since the protesters set up camp on the grounds of Government House in Bangkok.
“I am outside, and I can’t work properly,” he said, noting several times that the world was watching Thailand. “Is it shameful? Yes.”
But he added, to “resign won’t mean anything, even if I dissolve the parliament”.
News of the planned radio broadcast leaked yesterday, fuelling speculation that Mr Samak’s resignation was imminent. The front-page of the English-language Nation newspaper ran with the banner headline: “Samak on the Brink of Exit.”
The announcement came after Mr Samak imposed a state of emergency in Bangkok on Tuesday after bloody rioting between his supporters and opponents left one person dead and dozens injured.
The anti-government protesters have publicly humiliated Mr Samak by defying the emergency decree and remaining at his office compound, after the army chief declined to use force to remove them.
Protesters jeered, booed and repeatedly shouted: “Samak Get Out!” as his radio address was broadcast over speakers at Government House. One of the leaders, Chamlong Srimuang, addressed the crowd afterwards, predicting that more people would join their ranks.
Foreign minister Tej Bunnag resigned yesterday, a move widely viewed as a sign that Mr Samak was losing support from his own government.
Mr Samak said Mr Tej, a respected diplomat who was appointed to his post on July 27 to help ease political tensions, sent him a letter saying he had been “pressured by many sides”, including his wife who said she “could not tolerate him working for a government that had been treated contemptuously”.
The protests have been organised by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which has already forced one prime minister from power – staging protests in 2006 that paved the way for the bloodless coup that removed Thaksin Shinawatra.
Mr Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon, recently fled to Britain to escape corruption charges. The protesters say Mr Samak is Mr Thaksin’s stooge and is running the government for him by proxy.
The alliance – a mix of royalists, wealthy and middle-class urban residents, and union activists – argues that Western-style democracy does not work for Thailand. It says the ballot box gives too much weight to the impoverished rural majority, who protesters say are susceptible to vote buying that breeds corruption. It wants parliament to be revamped so most MPs are appointed rather than elected.
Army chief General Anupong Paochinda has insisted the military will not stage a new coup.
He also has made it clear that if troops are ordered into Bangkok’s streets, they will be armed only with riot shields and batons and will not use force – roughly the same position taken by Mr Samak since the crisis began.