Desperate to defuse Thailand's deepening political crisis, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Monday said she is dissolving the lower house of Parliament and called for early elections. But the moves did nothing to stem a growing tide of more than 150,000 protesters vowing to overthrow her in one of the nation's largest demonstrations in years.
"After listening to opinions from all sides, I have decided to request a royal decree to dissolve Parliament," said Yingluck, her voice shaking as she spoke in a nationally televised address Monday morning that broke into regular programming. "There will be new elections according to the democratic system."
Yingluck's ruling party won the last vote two years ago in a landslide, and is likely to come out victorious in any new ballot.
Government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi said the Cabinet had proposed a new vote be held Feb. 2. The date must be approved by the Election Commission, and electoral officials will meet with the government in the next few days to discuss it, said Jinthong Intarasri, a spokeswoman for commission.
Yingluck said she will remain in a caretaker capacity until a new premier is named.
Thailand has been plagued by major bouts of upheaval since Yingluck's brother Thaksin, a former premier, was toppled in a 2006 army coup that laid bare a deeper conflict between the elite and the educated middle-class against his power base in the countryside, which benefited from populist policies designed to win over the rural poor.
An attempt by Yingluck's party last month to pass a bill through Parliament that would have granted amnesty to Thaksin and others triggered the latest round of unrest.
Protesters are pushing for a non-elected "people's council" to replace Yingluck's democratically elected government.
As Yingluck spoke Monday, long columns of marching protesters paralyzed traffic on major Bangkok boulevards, filling four-lane roads as they converged from nine locations on Yingluck's office at Government House.
Many feared the day could end violently and more than 60 Thai and international schools have closed as a precaution.
The leader of the protest movement that has been battling to oust Yingluck said he would not end his demonstrations despite her dissolving of parliament and calling for elections.
"We have not yet reached our goal. The dissolving of parliament is not our aim," Suthep Thaugsuban told Reuters.
Suthep and protesters said demonstrations would continue.
"We will keep on protesting because we want her family to leave this country," Boonlue Mansiri, one of tens of thousands who joined a 12-mile march to Yingluck's office, told the Associated Press.
The sentiment was the same across town, where protesters waved flags, blew whistles and held a huge banner that read, "Get Out Shinawatra."
Asked about the dissolution of Parliament, one middle-aged woman in the crowd said, "It is too late" and "It's not enough."
"At the end of the day, we are going to win," said the woman who identified herself as Paew. "What happens now? Don't worry. We will figure it out."
The country's political standoff deepened Sunday after the main opposition party resigned from the legislature en masse to join the anti-government demonstrations. The Democrats held 153 of the 500 seats in the legislative body, according to the latest figures on their website.
The minority Democrats – who are closely allied with the protesters – have not won an election since 1992, and some of their leaders appear to have given up on electoral politics as a result.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the Democrat Party and a former premier, led one of the marches through Bangkok on Monday. He declined to comment on whether the party would participate in the next election.
Since the latest unrest began last month, at least five people have been killed and at least 289 injured. Violence ended suddenly last week as both sides paused to celebrate the birthday of the nation's revered king, who turned 86 Thursday.
The crisis boiled over after Yingluck's ruling party tried to ram a controversial amnesty bill through the legislature. Critics say it was designed mainly to bring Thaksin home to Thailand a free man.