BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's main opposition Democrat Party said it would boycott February's general election, deepening a political crisis as protesters called for another major rally Sunday to step up efforts to oust the government and force political reforms.
The party's leader, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, announced the boycott Saturday after a meeting of party executives, saying the decision was made in order to ensure that Thailand's government will "represent the people once again."
A spokesman for the ruling party said the Democrats were guided by the knowledge that they knew they would lose the election.
The Democrats' position reflects the stand taken by street protesters demanding that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down ahead of the elections. The demonstrators want an appointed interim government to institute reforms before any new polls are held. They called for a big rally Sunday on the heels of similar protests that have drawn crowds as large as 150,000-200,000 people since Oct. 31.
Yingluck dissolved the lower house of Parliament earlier this month to try to end the crisis, and on Saturday proposed a plan for making political reforms following the election. It included having election candidates take an oath to support the creation of a reform council immediately after taking office; having the council's representatives come from all walks of life at local and national levels; and mandating that the council finish its work within two years.
The Democrats, who are closely allied with the protest movement, also led an election boycott in 2006 that helped destabilize the government and paved the way for a military coup that ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's older brother.
Abhisit said he had "to accept the truth that the people believe that even if the Democrat Party runs in this election, they believe they will be not be able to reform the country."
"We are choosing the harder path, making the long-term decision to represent the people once again," he said.
The Democrat Party has not won a national election since 1992, while Thaksin and his allies have won each one held since 2001.
The protest movement, led by a former senior member of the Democrat Party, Suthep Thaugsuban, demands that the Feb. 2 polls not be held if Yingluck stays on as caretaker prime minister. The protesters say Thai politics are hopelessly corrupt under Thaksin's continuing influence, and that he buys his electoral support from the country's urban and rural poor. They believe that traditional one-man, one-vote democracy doesn't work because the poor are not educated enough to choose responsible leaders.