BANGKOK — The battle of wills between the Thai government and tens of thousands of protesters barricaded in the streets of Bangkok appeared to turn in favor of the protesters on Monday, when the country’s army chief shunned a military solution to the crisis and the prime minister’s party suddenly and unexpectedly faced the prospect of dissolution.
Two days after repulsing a blood-soaked military crackdown, the protesters cheered jubilantly at the announcement that Thailand’s Election Commission had recommended that the party of the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, be disbanded on charges of receiving an illegal donation.
“This government’s time in power is nearly over,” Veera Musikapong, a protest leader, said to throngs of protesters. Veera and other opposition figures said they would maintain their demonstrations to press Abhisit to resign.
The announcement by the Election Commission came hours after the head of the army, Gen. Anupong Paochinda, appeared to rule out further military action to remove protesters, saying, “The situation requires that the problem be solved by politics.”
Anupong also described the dissolution of parliament, the main goal of the protesters, as “a reasonable step.” The general’s comments were a stinging blow to Abhisit, who is portrayed by protesters as a puppet of Thailand’s elite and who came to power 16 months ago as part of a coalition brokered in part by the military.
For the past month, Abhisit’s government has operated from a military base on the outskirts of Bangkok, the capital, as protesters, many of them farmers from the provinces, expanded their street protests.
Abhisit has appeared increasingly isolated following the failure of the military to dislodge protesters on Saturday after running battles that killed 21 people.
Protesters have put important portions of Thailand’s capital beyond the government’s control. Although not quite anarchy, the protests have created a vacuum of law and order.
The Election Commission’s announcement on Monday may tip the scales toward the opposition movement, but it is unlikely to resolve the country’s underlying political crisis.
Abhisit’s Democrat Party would be the third political party in three years to be dissolved. The two parties disbanded earlier were affiliated with Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister removed in the 2006 military coup.