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Thailand's snap polls to proceed next year
Publication Date : 21-12-2013
Both the Thai government and election commission said snap polls slated for February 2 will go on even as protesters resumed their marches through Bangkok's streets to press for a delay.
On Thursday, the commission had voiced doubts over whether the elections could take place peacefully, hinting at the possibility of a delay.
This emboldened the protesters who on Friday marched through the capital's business district of Silom. There were about 10,000 in all in the streets, said police, including office workers having their lunch break.
But commission member Teerawat Terarotwit told media on Friday: "We are ready to hold elections on February 2... today the government said it will help ensure that elections take place smoothly."
The remarks followed a meeting between commission members and caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Thailand's main opposition Democrat Party is expected to decide today whether to boycott the polls, a decision that could drag the kingdom into further turmoil almost two months after protests first erupted in the capital.
The protesters want Yingluck to step down to make way for a 400-member "people's council" that would institute political reforms before elections are called. They aim ultimately to eradicate all traces of the "Thaksin regime", in reference to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is Yingluck's brother. He lives abroad after being deposed in a coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption in 2008, but is widely seen to still wield power behind the scenes.
The number of street protesters has waxed and waned over the past weeks, reaching a high of more than 150,000 on December 9.
According to police, there remain 1,500 protesters camped outside the vacated Prime Minister's office as well as in various areas in Bangkok's historic district.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has vowed not to let the polls take place and is planning a massive rally for Sunday, December 22.
Meanwhile, according to local reports, Yingluck has requested the military to stay neutral in this conflict. Thailand's military, which has launched no fewer than 18 coups, is seen as a powerful broker in this conflict although it has not openly supported either side so far.
Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha expressed worry about the possibility of clashes between supporters of opposing sides on Friday. He told reporters: "As long as there is still conflict, we have to work to reduce the conflict first."
The Democrats have urged again for polls to be postponed, while accusing Yingluck of using state funds to campaign during her current northeast tour.
Analysts expect a delay in elections to incur the ire of the Puea Thai's formidable "red shirt" supporters, bringing them out onto the streets and increasing the chances of violent clashes.
The Puea Thai is expected to win the polls but on a smaller scale than it did in 2011. Over the past two years, it has come under fire for spending more than 600 billion baht (US$18.4 billion) buying rice from farmers at about 50 per cent above market prices. Of late, it has run into funding problems which have delayed payments to farmers, raising the possibility of rural protests.
Its controversial amnesty plan, seen by many to be designed to allow Thaksin's return but which was later shelved, is also expected to cost it votes.