BANGKOK: Thailand plans to hold a national referendum to end the political crisis over street protests against the government, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said Thursday.
Samak said in a radio broadcast that he would urge the Senate to pass a pending referendum law quickly. He has been searching for a way to end the crisis that has paralyzed his government.
The anti-government group that has led the three-month protest against him in Bangkok immediately rejected the plan, signaling that political uncertainty would continue to beset the country.
"The campaign will last for a month in which both sides can do whatever electioneering they want," Samak said. And the thousands of activists who have barricaded themselves on his official compound could stay there during that period.
The anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a mainly middle class grouping of royalists and businessmen whose activists took over the prime minister's office compound in Bangkok 10 days ago, called the plan a delaying tactic.
"The referendum will not solve anything. It is the government's delaying tactic to prolong its survival," said PAD spokesman Parnthep Pourpongpan.
Earlier in the day, Samak dismissed talks that he would quit or call a snap election to defuse the protests. "I will not jump ship, I will be in control," he said.
The PAD, on the other hand, said, it would continue its campaign till Samak was ousted. "As long as he insists on staying on, we will not go anywhere. It doesn't matter how many days or years, or even into the next life," PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul told supporters.
The government said it was still putting finishing touches to the referendum plan, but Thailand's beleaguered stock market took the proposal as a positive sign and reversed losses earlier in the day to end 0.76 percent higher.
Government lawyers will decide what questions should be put to Thailand's 63 million people, cabinet spokesman Wichianchot Sukchotrat said. One minister said the referendum could take the form of a national vote of confidence.
Samak, 73, said in his morning broadcast that it was time for Thais to choose sides. "I want to avoid bloodshed. I want to avoid a crisis," he said, calling the PAD a lawless mob.
"The rest of the country must decide if it will join them (the opposition)."
Samak declared emergency rule this week after clashes between his supporters and anti-government protesters killed one man and injured 45.
But the army has refused to use force to evict the protesters, saying it would only make the situation worse. That was interpreted as a rebuff to the government.
Besides the referendum, analysts say various other scenarios are possible, including Samak calling a snap election as a last resort, or caving in to the protesters and resigning.
Another possibility is revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej intervening in the crisis. Such a move would be unlikely to favour the government.
Till now the king has not said anything in favor or against the government.