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Thai govt may let election body decide on poll postponement
Publication Date : 28-01-2014
The Thai caretaker government is likely to pass the hot potato of rescheduling the February 2 elections over to the Election Commission (EC) when caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra meets election commissioners today.
A source in the ruling Pheu Thai Party said yesterday that the government was expected to ask the EC to set a new election date. Also, the caretaker PM has reportedly been advised by the party's legal team to ask the EC to shoulder the 1.88 billion baht (US$57 million) it would cost to hold an election, the source said.
The election commissioners would also be asked to ensure that no legal action will be taken against the PM or her government if the caretaker Cabinet issues a royal decree rescheduling the election.
At the meeting, the PM will also raise questions with the EC on whether rescheduling the election would bring the ongoing protests to an end and whether the Democrat Party would contest the rescheduled election.
According to the source, one proposal - at the suggestion of the Council of State - would be for the EC to postpone the voting by seven days. This would be in line with Article 78 of the electoral law that allows such postponement in case of riot or force majeure (natural disaster).
Earlier yesterday, the government appeared firm on going ahead with the election this Sunday. Caretaker Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan, who is also leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, said the election must be held on schedule. He explained the government had resolved with 41 political parties for the poll to go ahead. They agreed it was not necessary to postpone the election, he said.
But a former Pheu Thai minister said the government may postpone the poll if the EC could convince the Democrat Party to contest the election and that no legal action would be taken against the caretaker PM if it was postponed.
The source, who asked not to be named, said Pheu Thai leaders met their legal team yesterday about points to be discussed with the EC at the meeting between Yingluck and the commissioners, to be held at the Army Club at 2pm.
EC member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said yesterday the EC would propose that the poll be delayed by up to four or five months.
The Pheu Thai meeting yesterday came up with three solutions in response to the Constitutional Court ruling last Friday that the election can be rescheduled, the source said.
The first was to go ahead with the poll as scheduled because the royal decree to dissolve the House and hold the February 2 election is still in effect.
"If the caretaker government advocates postponing the election, it may get sued by political parties and people who have voted in advance," the source said.
Second, the election goes ahead but the EC postpones the ballot in constituencies where advance voting on Sunday was interrupted by protesters - for seven days or more depending on the situation. Third, cancel the election and reschedule it on grounds that the court has backed rescheduling it.
'Govt will be blamed'
"The government will be blamed by society if it does not postpone the election. The EC wants the election to be postponed for 120 to 150 days," the source said.
The EC wants the new election to be held after a ballot for 77 senators to replace those whose term runs out on March 4, the source claimed. The government also wanted the EC to guarantee that the Democrat Party would take part if the election is deferred for a few months.
The Democrats have boycotted the current election on grounds that political reform should be implemented first.
Somchai, speaking to Spring News TV, said the polling process should be restarted to pave the way for candidates unable to register for the February 2 election to apply. Moreover, he said, advance voting needed to be nullified via a new royal decree.
"I think the election should be postponed for 4-5 months. All concerned parties need to hold talks on how to make the election acceptable and fair," he said.
Meanwhile, a group of people yesterday shouted messages in support of the February 2 election when Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva arrived at Thammasat University's Rangsit campus for a meeting between political party representatives and EC members.
Representatives from more small political parties registered to contest the Feb 2 election submitted a letter to the prime minister yesterday, urging her not to postpone the poll.
Surathin Pijan, leader of New Democratic Party, threatened to take legal action against the PM, the EC, and possibly the Constitutional Court if the election is postponed. He said smaller parties had spent a lot of money on their election campaigns.
Caretaker Deputy PM Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who is the chief adviser of the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO), told reporters that if the EC seeks help from the CMPO, which is in charge of enforcing the emergency decree, to keep law and order at polling stations, the body would be able to handle the situation.
He said the EC did not seek help from police or the military to protect polling stations during advance voting two days ago.
Advance voting at most polling stations in Bangkok and southern provinces were cancelled following blockades by protesters. This caused the EC to complain that it did not receive support from police or the military.
But Surapong said he received explanations from Interior Ministry permanent secretary Wibul Sanguanpong and Defence permanent secretary Gen Nipat Thonglek that the EC had not sought special protection or special forces to deal with the protests.
"So only the normal number of police were deployed to guard polling stations," Surapong said.
Interior Minister Charupong said yesterday he has ordered his permanent secretary to summon governors of 10 provinces, where advance polling could not be held, to clarify how much cooperation they gave to election officials. He said he wanted to know if the ministry had received an official request from the EC to support election officials during advance voting.