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Thailand's political deadlock deepens as court voids polls

Publication Date : 22-03-2014

 

Thailand's months-long political impasse has worsened, with the Constitutional Court annulling last month's heavily disrupted polls - a move which forces the beleaguered government to hold another election in 60 days.

The Puea Thai party, running a caretaker government since parliament was dissolved on December 9, intends to stick to its guns and plod on with another election.

But it is not clear yet when it will be held, and there are no guarantees that the opposition Democrat Party, which boycotted the February 2 polls, will participate this time.

Yesterday's judgment turned back the clock by weeks, and will prolong Thailand's political limbo. This will increase the chances of violence occurring between pro- and anti-government factions, and the possibility of military intervention if it becomes uncontrollable, analysts say.

Already, on Thursday night, Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) which essentially sabotaged the February 2 polls, told his supporters that they would do it again.

Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana, speaking to The Straits Times, drew a parallel with 2006, when a court ruled an election which had been similarly boycotted by the Democrat Party to be null and void, paving the way for the military coup that September which kicked out Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's brother Thaksin Shinawatra from the premiership.

"We hope this will not be a repeat of 2006," he said.

The court voted 6-3 to declare the February 2 election null and void. It cited the failure of 28 constituencies to register candidates - the result of disruptions by PDRC agitators.

The PDRC, entrenched in its downtown Bangkok protest site, has been trying for months to drive Yingluck out of office, saying the Puea Thai has only come to power by seducing its upcountry support base with money and promises. The movement, whose backbone is made up of the Bangkok elite and middle class, wants to create a power vacuum that would allow an interim prime minister to be appointed to push wide-ranging reforms before the country is allowed to return to elections.

Yesterday's judgment will further hurt the economy. On Thursday, the Thai Chamber of Commerce said that if the crisis is prolonged, the economy could contract by 1 per cent in the first quarter as government spending slows to a trickle and investor confidence sags.

Independent legal analyst Verapat Pariyawong slammed the court, saying it had set a precedent that would allow anyone with the power to sabotage an election to get away with it. He warned in an e-mail: "Once the people lose faith in the highest court of the land, they are more likely to take matters into their own hands, even if that comes with violence and anarchy."

The verdict was not a surprise, said Yingluck's secretary-general Suranand Vejjajiva. Still, he told The Straits Times yesterday, the opposition should take part in the next election "for the sake of democracy and getting out of this political impasse and stalemate".

Meanwhile, radical factions of the pro-government "red shirts", who have been mounting rallies in their upcountry strongholds and are also quite close to Bangkok, but are not yet in the city, are bound to become impatient, analysts say.

Radicals have sworn to take up arms and fight for the Yingluck government if it is brought down - and a creeping civil war is seen as a real possibility.

 

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