The Thai government approved plans for a national referendum on Thursday.

"The referendum is to ask public opinion and the prime minister has agreed to it as a possible solution to solve the problem," Somsak Kiatsuranont, the culture minister, said after a special cabinet meeting at the army headquarters in Bangkok.

Somsak said on Thursday that the process for drafting the referendum would start immediately.

But critics said the referendum was an attempt by Samak to cling on to power and many analysts said it would not tackle the core of the problem: the divide between the poor, rural masses and the urban middle class.

Samak to stay

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On live radio on Thursday, Samak said that he would not resign nor dissolve parliament.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the opposition Democrat party leader, told Al Jazeera it was probably "unconstitutional" to hold a referendum on a person or a group of people.

"If the PM really would like the verdict of the country, why not dissolve the house?" he said.

"We're not disputing that the house is democratically elected, but subsequent actions by this government is judged to have been wrong ... violating the constitution by the constitutional court, as well as a series of scandals.

"In any civilised democracy, the government would have shown some kind of responsibility or accountability by now."

Samak has been facing repeated calls to resign from anti-government protesters - led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - who have been camped out on his office lawn since last week.

He has repeatedly refused to resign, vowing not to bow to the demands of street protesters he described as a "freak cult" seeking anarchy.

He insisted that he will "stay in order to preserve democracy and to protect the monarchy".

If his opponents wanted him out, they should use the courts and not take to the streets, he said.

The referendum, if it proceeds, will be only the second ever in the kingdom. The first was in 2007, passing a new military-backed constitution formed after a coup a few months earlier.