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Thai court to rule if Feb polls can be delayed

Publication Date : 24-01-2014


Thailand's Constitutional Court will decide today whether its February 2 General Election can be postponed as security officials start working with fresh powers under an emergency law that was invoked to contain protests aimed at suspending the polls.

The Election Commission, which is seeking to postpone the election because of protest-induced disruptions, had asked the court to decide on whether this was possible and which party had the authority to do so.

A charter court ruling in favour of postponement would be a further blow to the embattled Puea Thai party's caretaker government.

Although it continues to be supported by rural voters in Thailand's populous north-east and north, it is not clear if it can form the government even if it wins these polls.

Many of its candidates are being investigated by the country's anti-graft body over a Constitutional amendment move last year.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra herself faces a probe over her role in the government's high-profile rice pledging scheme, where the state bought rice from farmers at about 50 per cent above world prices.

The emergency law was invoked after almost three months of protests that have darkened the outlook for Asean's second largest economy.

Two grenade attacks on protesters, one last Friday and another on Sunday, killed one person and injured more than 50, raising fears of further violence as a week-long blockade of Bangkok's key intersections has snarled traffic around the city.

Thailand's golf authorities postponed its premier golf tournament yesterday in view of the uncertainty.

The caretaker government, which has promised not to crack down on protesters, gave more details of how it intends to use the emergency law invoked for the capital as well as its surrounds.

Caretaker Labour Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who heads the security panel overseeing enforcement of the decree, announced that gatherings of five or more people in areas prohibited by the newly formed Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order were banned.

Also prohibited was news that incited panic or distorted information, as well as the use of buildings, vehicles or routes ordered by the centre.

Further criteria would be released at a later date, he said.

Although confrontations between protesters and police have been relatively limited so far, some analysts fear that the choice of Chalerm - who is known for being confrontational - to head the security group could raise tensions.

Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk said: "I'm very worried, given his record of being combative."

While saying the decree was unnecessary, he noted that "the overall position of the government has remained reasonable and cautious so far".

Over the past two months, protesters have disrupted election registration, rallied at a printing house for ballot papers, and also reportedly intimidated Thailand's postal service into halting deliveries of ballot papers.

They have also surrounded government buildings to force civil servants to stop work in their bid to oust Yingluck.

Yesterday, anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban marched across Bangkok in defiance of the emergency decree, loudly cheered by city dwellers who lined the streets.


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