Game changer in Thailand

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Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Refuses to Resign

Thai Leader Says Her Duty Is to Stay in Office.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra refused to resign and allow an appointed government to run the country ahead of new elections on February 2, despite mass protests to force her to step down.

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Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra gets emotional after speaking at a news conference, in Bangkok, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, during which she said she would not resign ahead of national elections set for Feb. 2. Associated Press

BANGKOK—Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Tuesday refused to resign and allow an appointed government to run the country as Thailand prepares for new elections on February 2, despite mass protests to force her to step down.

Over 150,000 people poured into the streets of Bangkok the previous day, ignoring Ms. Yingluck’s move to dissolve parliament and call a fresh vote in a bid to defuse this Southeast Asian nation’s ongoing political crisis. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, said that calling an election wasn’t enough, and that Ms. Yingluck should also step down and remove herself from politics.

The demonstrators accuse Ms. Yingluck, 46 years old, of working as a proxy for her brother, former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. A self-made telecommunications tycoon, Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006. Critics accuse him of masterminding a series of aggressively populist policies to lock up votes and win a series of elections from his base in Dubai, where he is living to avoid imprisonment on a corruption conviction which he says is politically motivated.

Ms. Yingluck, though, told reporters Tuesday that “I must do my duty as a caretaker prime minister according to the constitution,” adding that a new leader can be installed after the planned polls.

She appeared to choke up and fight back tears when she was asked about her family’s role in Thailand’s decadelong political drama, saying she couldn’t grasp why it had become such a divisive issue.

Her brother, Mr. Thaksin, is still wildly popular in many parts of Thailand for his pro-poor policies, and his lingering appeal helped get Ms. Yingluck elected in a landslide in 2011. He described Ms. Yingluck as his “clone” at one point, while the ruling Pheu Thai, or For Thais, Party campaigned on a platform of “Thaksin thinks, Yingluck does”.

Since then, the Shinawatra clan has expanded its populist policies to include a multibillion-dollar subsidy for rice farmers and tax rebates for first-time car and home buyers in a bid to stimulate the domestic consumer economy.

Her opponents, Mr. Suthep chief among them, describe these policies as being akin to vote-buying, and are seeking to eradicate the influence of Mr. Thaksin. Some of the demonstrators taking part in Monday’s mass protests said Ms. Yingluck should consider leaving the country, too.

When the Pheu Thai Party attempted to pass an amnesty law through parliament in early November that would have exonerated Mr. Thaksin of his corruption conviction and clear opposition figures of politically-linked charges, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Bangkok in protest.

Ms. Yingluck quickly withdrew the amnesty plan, but the demonstrators instead stepped up their campaign and began pushing for her resignation and the creation of an unelected, appointed “people’s assembly”, leaving one of Southeast Asia’s most important economies trapped in what appears to be a stalemate.

While the streets of Bangkok were largely calm Tuesday, which is a national holiday here, there are questions as to whether the election will go ahead as Ms. Yingluck planned.

She urged all Thailand’s political parties to take part in the vote when she announced the election Monday, but the main opposition group, the Democrat Party, hasn’t decided whether it will participate. The party, Thailand’s oldest, hasn’t won an election since 1992 and in 2006 boycotted a vote called by Mr. Thaksin. A Thai court voided the result of that election because minimum voter turnout levels had not been met.

The subsequent vacuum helped pave the way for the coup that removed Mr. Thaksin from power.

Write to James Hookway at james.hookway@wsj.com

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