Pro-government supporters gather after weeks of protests against the prime minister.
Samak’s government has been under siege for nearly a week.
A movement calling itself the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) stormed the prime minister’s compound and forced the closure of airports and railways in other parts of the country.
|Samak has refused to step down [AFP]|
It has also blocked some roads and threatened to close down more airports and roads if the government imposes emergency rule.
Al Jazeera’s Selina Downes, reporting from Bangkok, said the tensions were having a knock-on effect on the economy.
Analysts say Thailand’s economy has never really recovered since the coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister nearly two years ago and some had hoped that the country was finally getting on track to recovery.
But the latest standoff between protesters and the government may be threatening that recovery, since the government has had little time or energy to focus on anything else.
The effect would be especially felt in the vital area of tourism.
With airports in popular holiday areas such as Phuket and Krabi shut down by protesters and threats of more, tourists may begin staying away.
And worries of violence now that pro-government demonstrators have also taken to the streets, raising the possibility of the two sides clashing, may also discourage visitors.
The PAD claims the government is a puppet of Thaksin who was ousted in a military coup amid allegations of corruption.
The PAD’s anti-Thaksin demonstrations in 2006 had helped to trigger the coup.
How crisis could play out
Now it wants to topple this government as well because it says the government is attempting to amend the constitution to suit itself.
“We hope that by what we’re doing will teach the politicians a lesson that just because they have the majority vote, doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want,” Sondhi Limthongul, an anti-government leader, said.
The group says that Western-style democracy of one-man, one-vote, gives too much weight to Thailand’s rural majority, whom it considers susceptible to vote-buying that breeds corruption.
It wants 70 per cent of parliament appointed and only 30 per cent elected, a move detractors say is undemocratic.
Supporters of the government blame the PAD for destabilising the country.
“The PAD were the ones who invited the military to illegally take control of our country. We don’t trust the PAD since all their actions past and present lead our country backward,” Somyot Preuksakasemsuk, a government supporter, said.
The influential army commander, General Anupong Paochinda, has vowed that the military will not stage a coup.
The prime minister himself has refused to stand down and give in to opponents he says only reflect a minority in the country.
At a special joint parliamentary sitting of MPs and senators to discuss the crisis on Sunday, a number of politicians called for Samak to step down.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the opposition Democrat party, said “dissolving parliament is a way for the government to show responsibility”.
Jurin Laksanavisit, another Democrat, said Samak’s aggressive demeanour had fuelled the crisis.
“I think it is time for the prime minister to look at himself and decide whether he is still fit to be prime minister,” said Jurin. “If he still holds on to office, the problems of the country will escalate.”
But Samak said he would not let protesters force his hand.
“I am sure that I love this country as much as anybody,” he said. “But I love democracy much more, more than anyone who told me to resign.”
Shortly after the end of the debate in the early hours of Monday, a small explosion at a police booth near where there have been anti-governments protests damaged windows, but caused no casualties. No one claimed responsibility for the blast.