Sat, Jan 25, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Thai court ruling opens way for poll delay

FEB. 2 VOTE?The court gave the Election Commission the right to postpone the election, but also said it would have to agree with the government on a new date

Reuters, BANGKOK

Anti-government protesters march through a main road during the Bangkok Shutdown rally in Bangkok yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Thailand’s Constitutional Court yesterday opened the way to put off a general election the government has set for Sunday next week, piling pressure on Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra who looks increasingly cornered by legal challenges to her grip on power.

The Election Commission sought court approval to postpone the vote, saying the country was too unsettled by mass anti-government protests in the capital, now in their third month, to hold a successful vote.

Yingluck called the election in the hope of confirming her hold on power in the face of protests trying to force her from office.

“[The ruling] is likely to be seen as part of the build-up to dislodge Yingluck from office, similar to what happened in 2008, but with higher stakes and higher potential for violence and unpredictability,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

In 2008, courts brought down two governments allied to Yingluck’s brother and former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in self-imposed exile.

The ruling appears to fudge a decision. It gave the Election Commission the right to postpone the election, but also ruled that the commission would have to agree on a new date with the government.

The government has refused to accept a delay in the vote, which it would almost certainly win and which the opposition says it will boycott.

Varathep Rattankorn, a minister at the prime minister’s office, said it would study the ruling before deciding its next move.

One election commissioner said the vote could still go ahead on Sunday next week if Yingluck’s government dug in its heels.

“We will ask to meet with the prime minister and her government on Monday to discuss a new election date,” Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said. “If the government doesn’t agree to postpone the election, then the election will go ahead.”

The government declared a 60-day state of emergency from Wednesday, hoping to prevent an escalation in protests.

A leading pro-government activist was shot and wounded the same day in northeast Thailand, a Yingluck stronghold, in what police said was a political attack, adding to fears the violence could spread.

Nine people have died and dozens been wounded in violence, including two grenade attacks in the capital last weekend.

Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, accusing the government of mass corruption, wants it to step down and a “people’s council” appointed to push through electoral and political changes.

He has yet to comment publicly on the court ruling.

Many see both the Constitutional Court and the Election Commission as favoring Yingluck’s opponents.

“The pressure will be much more on Yingluck than the Election Commission because the Constitutional Court decision is much more supportive of the [commission],” Thitinan said.

By calling the election and dissolving parliament as required by law, she now heads a caretaker government that has only limited powers.

Several governments have warned their nationals to avoid protest areas in Bangkok, among the world’s most visited cities.

China called on Thailand to “restore stability and order as soon as possible” through talks.

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