PATHUM THANI, Thailand — Members of Thailand’s yellow-shirt protest movement voted to form a political party, creating a potentially influential force as the country struggles to pull itself out of recession.
Tens of thousands of members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy — a movement instrumental in bringing down two governments — converged on a sports stadium in this town near Bangkok on Monday and voted to transform the grass-roots campaign against corruption into a formal political party.
The apparently overwhelming assent — almost the entire stadium stood up to vote for the change — points to an expanded political role for the group’s leaders after it gained global notoriety for shutting down Bangkok’s international airports for a week last year.
The new party, which the PAD hasn’t yet named, could further elevate publisher and broadcaster Sondhi Limthongkul, the 61-year-old driving force behind the movement.
The PAD’s vote comes as Thailand grapples with its worst economic slump in more than a decade. The state economic planning agency said GDP contracted 7.1% in the first three months of 2009 from a year earlier, the worst performance since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.
Also in today’s WSJ: “Thai Economy Enters Recession, but Recovery Is in Sight.”
Thailand’s economy plunged into recession in the first quarter as the global downturn hammered exports and tourism slumped due to political unrest. But the government and economists say the economy is probably at or near the bottom.
Seasonally adjusted gross domestic product shrank 1.9% in the three months ended March from the prior quarter, said the head of the National Economic & Social Development Board, Ampon Kittiampon. The state economic planning agency said GDP contracted 7.1% in the first three months from a year earlier, the worst performance since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.