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Thai polls can be deferred, court says

Publication Date : 25-01-2014

 

The February 2 election can only be postponed if the ongoing protests are brought to an end and there is no boycott of the election, a government figure said yesterday following a Constitutional Court ruling that the polls can be rescheduled.

PM's Office Minister Varathep Ratanakorn said caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been informed of the ruling, and would discuss the matter with the Election Commission (EC) if she was formally invited by the agency, he said.

"The election should be postponed on condition that the protesters cease their rallies and there is no blockade or boycott of the election," Varathep said. "If there are still attempts to interrupt the election, there is no use in postponing it."

Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), said last night that protesters would campaign for national reform before elections at all polling booths in Bangkok during advance voting tomorrow. "It's every citizen's right to peacefully express his opinion. If the rally makes it difficult for voters to get into polling stations, please excuse us, as the space is limited," he said.

Former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who is believed to be pulling the strings behind the scenes, has been made aware of the court ruling, a source close to him said yesterday.

Thaksin reportedly agreed that the push to hold the election on February 2 would only lead to violence as anti-government protesters have threatened to interrupt voting, the source said. By deferring the poll, pressure faced by the government would shift to Suthep, the source quoted Thaksin saying.

The eight Constitutional Court judges present backed the rescheduling of the election yesterday, though most of them said it would be a joint responsibility for the caretaker prime minister and the EC chief to discuss the issue.

The court said the two should decide whether the election should be rescheduled and if so, a new royal decree issued on when it should be held. In the ruling, the court also cited the rescheduling of the 2006 election, when a royal decree was issued to defer the election date.

On Wednesday, the EC had asked the Constitutional Court to consider if the election could be rescheduled and if the government and the EC were authorised to set a new election date.

Charupong Ruangsuwan, leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, said the Constitution allows for a snap election to be held within 45 to 60 days after the dissolution of the House of Representatives. Hence, he said, the election could be postponed to no later than May 6.

EC secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong said the commission respected the court's ruling and would hold an urgent meeting this afternoon before contacting the premier as soon as possible. He said the EC might ask to meet Yingluck either on Monday or Tuesday.

"If there is a new royal decree on the election date, the whole [election] process would go back to square one," he said.

Issara Boonyoung, an adviser to the Business Housing Association, said the court's verdict should ease the political tension. He said that it was still up to the caretaker government to decide whether to accept the ruling and discuss it with the EC.

A Pheu Thai Party source said the party expects the election to be postponed by at least six months, adding the party's strategic panel had come to this conclusion at a meeting on Thursday night.

At the meeting, caretaker Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang reportedly warned that independent agencies could take measures against Pheu Thai's interests, going so far as to dissolve the party, the source, who asked not to be named, said.

Meanwhile, EC member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said he did not think advance voting would be possible in Surat Thani tomorrow. "There is a lack of volunteers to man poll units in the South. Surat Thani lacks 80 per cent of electoral staff. More importantly, ballot cards heading for Surat Thani have been blocked in Chumphon."

Once the court ruling was announced, PM's secretary-general Suranand Vejjajiva tweeted: "To postpone or not, that is the question?!?"

Issara Boonyoung, an adviser to the Business Housing Association, said the court's verdict should ease the political tension. He said that it was still up to the caretaker government to decide whether to accept the ruling and discuss it with the EC.

On Wednesday, the EC had asked the Constitutional Court to consider if the election could be rescheduled and if the government and the EC were authorised to set a new election date. A source, who asked not to be named, said the judges voted 7-1 on the second point.

A Pheu Thai Party source said the party expects the election to be postponed by at least six months, adding the party's strategic committee had come to this conclusion at a meeting on Thursday night.

At the meeting, caretaker Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang reportedly warned that independent agencies could take measures against Pheu Thai's interests, going so far as to dissolve the party, the source, who asked not to be named, said.

Meanwhile, in a surprise move, leaders of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) resolved yesterday not to obstruct the election but let the people decide what is best. PDRC spokesman Akanat Promphan announced yesterday that the anti-government protest movement would not stop voters from exercising their rights in advance voting tomorrow or on election day next Sunday.

Akanat said he did not know what was behind the decision, especially after PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban had announced on Thursday that the February 2 election would not be allowed to take place or succeed. He added that Suthep would lead a march from the Ratchaprasong intersection to seek more support.

Meanwhile, as many as 7,000 police officers will be deployed at polling stations nationwide tomorrow to allow advance voting and deter anti-government protesters, Metropolitan Police deputy chief Pol Maj-General Chanthawit Ramasuta said yesterday.

However, police are under strict orders from national police chief Pol General Adul Saengsingkaew to use non-violent means, such as negotiations, to deal with protesters.

Violence could still occur over the weekend as anti-government protesters are expected to engage in various activities to disrupt advance voting.

Chanthawit said extra police personnel had been called in to maintain peace and order at Bangkok-based polling stations and to cope with any possible disruptions by protesters, who might "do whatever it takes" to stop advance voting.

Separately, Bhum Jai Thai Party candidates yesterday issued a statement calling on the government to defer the election until things become peaceful.

The statement was read out at a press conference, which included candidates Boonjong Wongtrairat, Sophon Saram and Prajak Kaewklahan.

 

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