Thailand's new parliamentary elections will be held on April 2 following a House dissolution announced by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra earlier Friday.
"The election date is set for April 2," said a royal decree broadcast on national television which opened the way for snap polls.
It said elections were necessary to prevent the tense political situation from worsening and when a difference in opinion sparks political divisiveness, returning the political power to the people through a new election is the common way out in democratic societies.
Amid mounting public call for Thaksin to step down over the alleged wrongdoings, the prime minister on Friday afternoon met Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and made a surprising announcement to dissolve the House.
In a national address broadcast live on television, Thaksin hinted he would lead his party in snap election slated on April 2.
"I would like to apologize and ask you to go out and make your own decision again by casting your vote. I am ready to bow to whatever your decision is", said the prime minister, adding that he cannot accept mob rule.
He uttered concerns for the impact of the election decision on Thai economy since the government hoped to draw foreign investment with the launch of a 44-billion-dollar mega project work.
However, political analysts said even if the ruling Thai Rak Thai party claims victory on the April 2 election, it could still fail to extinguish the controversy and legitimacy problem of Thaksin's leadership.
Some opposition leaders insist that they would go on with the anti-Thaksin movement until the prime minister resigns, arguing that dissolving the House and holding new election could not solve Thaksin's problems.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's administration has been thrown into uncertainty over the recent weeks amid mounting growing public outcry for the prime minister to resign following his family's controversial sale of its controlling stake in telecom giant Shin Corp. to Singapore's state-owned investment company in January.
Thaksin said his family sold the stake in a bid to avoid conflict-of-interest accusations, while critics blamed him for corruption, abuse of power and manipulation of laws.
On February 4, some 50,000 people joined an anti-Thaksin rally in the capital, the biggest demonstration since Thaksin came into office in 2001. It was followed by the second anti-government gathering a week later with the participation of 20,000 protesters.
Students, workers, teachers, the middle class people even members of parliament from Thai Rak Thai party have joined in the growing chorus of anti-government campaign led by business-turned opponent Sondhi Limthongkul, the ascetic former general Chamlong Srimuang and some political rivals.
On Sunday, the opposition planed another rally which the government officials believe may draw some 100,000 participants and worry it could arise violence.
A recent nationwide poll by Bangkok's Assumption University showed that Thaksin's popularity has slumped to 34.5 percent this month compared with 77.5 percent right after he won the second term in a landslide election victory in February 2005.
Responding to the rapidly growing campaign against the government, Thai cabinet this week gave green light for a joint House-Senate sitting set for March 6 to debate the ongoing political crisis.
The ruling Thai Rak Thai party also planned pro-Thaksin rallies across the country on March 3 with Thaksin appear on stage at a rally in Bangkok. Thai Rak Thai MPs are considering filing a lawsuit against those who wrongly accused the prime minister for wrongdoings.
Backed by rural-based electorate, Thaksin first took office in 2001 when Thailand was struggling to overcome the Asian financial crisis. With cheap loans and government handout proved successful in boosting domestic demand, Thailand was leading the pack of Southeast Asian tigers by 2003. In the same year, Thaksin declared war on the country's illegitimate drug trade, a campaign hailed by ordinary Thais who fed up with the prevalence of the drugs in society.
Although Thaksin's reputation was tarnished by the administration's ineffective handling of the southern violence, especially the resulted deaths of 78 protesters in police custody in Oct. 2004, he still won high marks for the proficient handling of aftermath of Dec. 26 tsunami and the efforts to contain bird flu in his second term.
In a Feb. 9 speech to the National Economic Social Advisory Council, Thaksin claimed his policy has made the economy grow and made drug offenses drop. He also vowed to eradicate poverty in the next three years.
In face of the new election, members of the opposition Democrat party said it was unfair to send people to the polls again in a bid to set the prime minister alone free over the escalating political confrontation.
A fresh elections could help Thaksin to evade calls for his resignation since his party holds 375 of the 500 parliamentary seats, according to experts and analysts on Thai politics.