As Thailand Calms, Protesters Seek King’s Intervention

BANGKOK—As relative calm settled in Thailand’s capital, protesters and officials turned their attention toward finding a way out of the political impasse that has gripped the country in recent weeks, with many eager to see whether the Thai king will weigh in on the crisis.

Protest leaders seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said they were open to a scenario in which she would step aside in favor of a royally appointed interim prime minister—a solution that has occasionally been adopted in the country’s deeply tumultuous political history.

Ms. Yingluck has so far rejected calls to step down, but said she was open to negotiations about government reformswithin her government.

Her government and its rivals, who have taken to the streets in sometimes violent protests over the past week, reached a tentative truce Tuesday to honor the 86th birthday on Thursday of Thailand’s revered monarch, King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, who was expected to make his customary Dec. 5 speech. Protesters have said they would resume their street rallies on Friday.

So far, the king, who often calls for national unity, hasn’t made any statement regarding the current political crisis.

Protests erupted last month when Ms. Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party tried to push an amnesty law through Parliament that would allow her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to return to Thailand a free man. Critics accused Ms. Yingluck of co-opting the state to serve the interests of her brother, who has been living in self-imposed exile to avoid a corruption conviction that he says was politically motivated.

Aside from brief demonstrations at the National Police headquarters in downtown Bangkok, the city appeared to return almost to normal Wednesday.

Suthep Thaugsuban, who left his post in parliament last month to lead the protests, proposed in a speech Tuesday night to have a “decent person” without any political affiliation as an interim prime minister, and to form an interim government under Section 7 of the country’s constitution.

This provision confers power to the king—as the head of the state—to make such a political decision, when there is no constitutional solution to a situation.

Unelected prime ministers were proposed for King Bhumibhol’s royal endorsement in the past usually when the country was plunged in crisis.

After a student uprising in 1973, the king approved a proposal by the House deputy speaker to appoint a former judge and rector of Thammasat University to be interim prime minister—a precedent that has been followed a few times since.

Anand Panyarachun, who took office in 1991 by an invitation of the military regime and endorsed by the king, remains popular for his push for economic and social reforms.

“Most Thais follow what the king says and look up for his guidance in time of trouble,” said Jade Donavanik, dean at Siam University’s Graduate School of Law.

In 2006, leaders of protests against Mr. Thaksin proposed to replace him with a royally appointed prime minister but he was toppled in military coup, and the military-appointed government took office.

Experts say that appointing a prime minister in this case may not be applicable or even politically viable since there are constitutional structures—such as the Parliament and the judiciary—to deal with the current political crisis.

“No one can simply come up with the idea that the king can give away a prime minister,” said Verapat Pariyawong, a legal adviser and political commentator.

Asking for an appointed prime minister, some analysts said, would be moving Thailand backward.

“In those times in Thai political history, there were struggles of power, there were coup d’etats, there were illegal and unconstitutional attempts to bring down the government,” said Mr. Verapat. “Right now we are not going to repeat those mistakes, where we rely on extra-constitutional procedures.”

Even King Bhumibhol said he was against this idea during a speech in 2006 and insisted on refraining from making unilateral decisions in times of political crisis. The appointment of the interim prime ministers wasn’t an exercise of his power, the king said, but to respond to proposals by the House speaker or the country’s governing body.

“Section 7 of the constitution doesn’t grant a power for the king to do whatever he wishes,” King Bhumibhol said at the time, adding that asking the king to appoint a prime minister would lead to a regime that is “messy and illogical.”