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Thai polls set for Sunday amid fears of further violence

Publication Date : 29-01-2014

 

Ruling party Pheu Thai expected to win snap elections but opposition warns that more clashes may break out

 

The decision to go ahead with the February 2 election would only mount pressure on Thailand's caretaker government because it would provide "ammunition" to the protesters, a leader of the People's Democratic for Reform Committee (PDRC) said yesterday.

The protest leader told The Nation, on condition of anonymity, that this decision would be advantageous for the PDRC as it would give them reason to continue. He said that if the government decided to delay the poll, the PDRC would have no reason to keep rallying.

After failing to reach a consensus yesterday over rescheduling the poll in a meeting with the Election Commission (EC), the government announced that the snap election would go ahead as scheduled - this Sunday.

Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana, who was at the meeting, said delaying the poll would not solve problems and could open the door to more trouble.

The government and EC have been at loggerheads over delaying the election. The commission has been saying the poll should not be held due to the anti-government rallies, while the government has been arguing that delaying it would not end the protests either.

The protest leader said that while Pheu Thai Party would most definitely win the poll, its legitimacy would certainly be questioned. And it is feared that clashes may break out, as they did last Sunday, when advance voting was held. There could also be problems such as a delay in the endorsement of the winner and the inability of the House to convene.

Moreover, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra - who is again Pheu Thai's top candidate - is being investigated by the National Anti-Corruption Commission in relation to the rice-pledging scheme. If she is indicted, it might affect her political status.

"The fight between the PDRC and the Yingluck government will become a prolonged battle and not end soon," he said.

Meanwhile, PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban announced last night that another 195 prominent individuals were ready to support his reform agenda. They include former Bank of Thailand governor Pridiyathorn Devakula, former commerce minister Krirk-krai Jirapaet and Magsaysay award winner Krisna Kraisintu.

Separately, Nipit Intarasombat, deputy Democrat leader, said he would sue the Cabinet for not postponing the election, which would cost the country Bt3.8 billion.

Earlier, Yingluck met all five EC members and ministers, including Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok, PM's Office Minister Varathep Rattanakorn and Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul.

Yingluck proposed that the election should only be postponed in constituencies or at polling stations that have had problems. She wanted constituencies where no candidates have enrolled, or advance voting was blocked, to have a new election date.

Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said he analysed scenarios for the government to consider. He said there were plenty of problems already and more likely after ballots are cast.

The House would not be able to sit for three to four months, he said, as the number of elected candidates would be below 95 per cent, the legal quorum required.

There were 28 constituencies, mostly in the south, which lack candidates to contest the ballot, he said. The government needed a new decree or the EC needed a new declaration to set a new date, perhaps two to three months for voting in the 28 remaining constituencies.

Without complete results, the EC could not calculate the number of party-list MPs, he said. It would need at least 4 to 6 months.

Somchai said the EC would have to hold new elections for 83 constituencies, where advance voting was blocked last Sunday.

He said some 2.1 million voters who had registered to cast absentee ballots or advance votes were yet to exercise their right. They would have the right to cast ballots by late February, he said.

Somchai and Phongthep briefed the media on the outcome of the meeting but it seemed that they came out to argue against each other. When Phongthep said the delay would not solve any problems because protesters would not stop, Somchai argued that an election this weekend would face all kinds of trouble.

During the conference, three men came to protest. One man showed a placard that said "Respect us". He said they came from a group called "We are 100 per cent Thai citizens who want the EC to resign."

Meanwhile, a new problem emerged shortly after all 50 district chiefs have asked to step down en masse as heads of the EC in their areas in Bangkok, citing fears for their safety and huge pressure from both political camps.

Bangkok City Clerk Ninnart Chalitanont said Bang Kapi district chief Sin Nitithadakul had tendered his resignation. The other district chiefs also want to resign but were worried that the EC may not be able to find replacements for them in time.

She said the district chiefs did not want to face the dramas that occurred during advance voting last Sunday.

Ninnart said the EC would have to appoint new committees within 20 days before the election date if the other chiefs resign.

 

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