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Polls for thwarted voters in Thailand

Publication Date : 08-02-2014

 

Thailand will hold another round of elections for voters thwarted by protesters in Sunday's polls, even as anti-government groups press on with their three-month-long campaign to dislodge the caretaker government.

No date has been set for the new polls as that has to be done in consultation with the government, the election commission indicated yesterday after a meeting.

More than eight million voters did not get to cast their vote on Sunday because anti-government protesters had prevented candidates from registering for the polls in 28 wards last year and had blocked the delivery of ballot papers to thousands of polling stations on the eve of the election.

The prolonged nature of this general election, coupled with persistent street protests in Bangkok, has slowed the functions of a government that has held only caretaker status since December 9, when Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the House of Representatives under pressure from street demonstrations.

The growth outlook for Asean's second largest economy has dimmed alongside the halt of further commitments to a large-scale infrastructure programme, among other projects.

Yesterday, Thailand's central bank cut its 2014 growth forecast from 4 per cent to 3 per cent, roughly in line with a similar revision by the Ministry of Finance last month.

Protesters want Ms Yingluck and her Puea Thai government to give way to a "people's council" to reform and "restart" Thailand before elections are held.

The Puea Thai party, which is largely supported by the rural masses in the populous north-eastern and northern Thailand, insists that any reforms must be conducted along democratic principles.

Ms Yingluck told reporters yesterday: "Everyone has to sustain democracy in order to pass through this crisis."

Latest figures for the incomplete election on Sunday show that 47.7 per cent of the electorate nationwide cast their ballots.

In Chiang Mai province, a Puea Thai stronghold and Ms Yingluck's hometown, turnout was as high as 75 per cent, although just 56 per cent of voters in the northern provinces cast their ballots.

The opposition has claimed that the relatively higher number of voters not choosing any political party - "not choosing any party" being a choice on the ballot paper - indicated support for their cause.

But Thailand-based scholar Chris Baker has stressed that "nobody won".

In his analysis of preliminary data published on the New Mandala website of the Australian National University, he also wrote: "Puea Thai will probably have won a majority of the seats.

"But the party cannot have won enough votes in absolute numbers to bolster the government's sagging legitimacy."

Puea Thai is also facing pressure from rice farmers who have rallied in the capital Bangkok in recent days to demand overdue payments for rice they sold to the state under a controversial rice purchase scheme.

The generous scheme has run into funding trouble, made worse by protester pressure on state banks not to bail it out.

Yesterday, the farmers filed a complaint with the National Anti-Corruption Commission over the overdue payments.

Meanwhile, night-time grenade attacks stoked tension in and around the capital.

Although the recent week has been relatively calm compared to a pre-election gunfight between opposing political camps, two grenades were reportedly hurled at a protester camp on the outskirts of Bangkok overnight on Thursday.

No one was injured.

On the same night, an explosive was thrown into a community radio station of a pro-government "red shirt" leader in Pathum Thani province immediately to the north of Bangkok, according to local daily Khaosod.

 

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