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'Thai polls on track'

Publication Date : 04-01-2014

 

Thailand's Election Commission said yesterday that the February 2 poll would continue as planned, with no extension for candidate registration in 28 constituencies disrupted by protesters in provinces in the south.

Meanwhile, the government yesterday opted not to impose an emergency decree ahead of mass anti-government rallies in coming weeks. Pro-government red shirts also decided to avoid Bangkok and surrounding provinces when they gather in support of the election and the government.

Election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said the EC was not empowered to postpone the election or extend the candidacy registration period.

Protesters managed to disrupt registration in eight southern provinces, resulting in no candidates registering in 28 constituencies in those areas.

Election commissioner Thirawat Thirarojwit said there had been no change to the February 2 schedule, and the members of the EC "will continue doing our duty and hold the election, whatever happens".

"Everybody is aware the road ahead is difficult," he said. "Our duty is to drive the boat. We see a storm ahead and we issued a warning."

EC members met yesterday to discuss problems in the run-up to the poll.

The commission's secretary-general, Puchong Nutrawong, explained that any extension of registration would affect the schedule for 150,000 Thai expatriates overseas and another 2.5 million eligible voters registered for advance voting.

He suggested that aspiring election candidates who failed to register should petition the Supreme Court for confirmation of their status as candidates. He also dismissed speculation some EC members would resign before the poll.

Meanwhile, pro-government red shirts will avoid the capital, surrounding provinces and the South when they gather on January 13 to oppose the "Bangkok shutdown" on that day, according to red-shirt leader Natthawut Saikua.

This is to avoid the risk of confrontation with people backing the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), said Natthawut, who is also caretaker deputy commerce minister.

He said the rally would focus on campaigning against a coup and support of the February 2 election. The PDRC wants the poll postponed until "reforms" can be imposed by an unelected "people's council".

Natthawut said pro-election processions would be held on main streets of provinces in the North, Northeast, and Central regions. People who participate in these would be asked not to wear red so as to create the perception that they are "democracy lovers", and not just red shirts, he said.

The marches will be shown live on the red shirts' satellite-based television stations.

Jatuporn Promphan, another red-shirt leader, likened the PDRC plan to hold protests at many junctions in Bangkok to an attempted coup.

He said that if the group, led by veteran politician Suthep Thaugsuban, managed to seize political power, it would be a major setback for democracy and the people.

"In this situation, the democratic force should come out in a show of force. Suthep's movement should not be allowed to create chaos," he said.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday met with senior officials from security agencies, including military commanders, during a meeting of the Internal Security Operations Command. She also serves as head of the Isoc ex officio.

National security chief Paradorn Pattanatabut said the shutting down of Bangkok by anti-government protesters on January 13 was not expected to escalate to the point where an emergency decree to deal with massive demonstrations was necessary.

Military and police would jointly monitor developments but a preliminary assessment concluded that the situation would not reach a critical level.

If it does turn out to be necessary, the caretaker PM could instantly declare an emergency decree, he said.

Yingluck was due to chair a security meeting with high-ranking military and police later yesterday to map out preparations for the "shutdown", which could paralyse the capital.

Paradorn said anti-government protesters were not armed and previous violent clashes between police and demonstrators were infiltrated by a "third party".

"We have to be more cautious and adjust our security measures to prevent third-party intervention. We don't believe there will be a confrontation between pro- and anti-government groups" on January 13, he said.

A building at the Government Complex on Chaeng Wattana Road has been turned into a temporary office for Yingluck, who has been unable to work at Government House, which has been blocked by protesters since last month.

 

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