Tue, May 16, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Thai officials moot October vote

BREATHING ROOM Analysts suggested that an Oct. 22 vote would give ruling party members enough time to switch parties, which could help the opposition's chances

AFP , BANGKOK

Thai election officials yesterday proposed holding new polls in October, a date which analysts say could give the opposition enough time to persuade factions to defect from the embattled ruling party.

But the Election Commission's proposal to the government would also prolong the political crisis which has gripped the country for three months.

"We agreed that Oct. 22 is suitable because it will give enough time for party members to switch parties if thay want to," Commissioner Prinya Nakchudtree told reporters.

"We will make the proposal to Cabinet [today]," he said.

The announcement came after the Election Commission met representatives of the ruling party and several smaller parties.

The leading opposition parties refused to attend the meeting in protest at the commission, which they say should resign after the Constitutional Court tossed out the results of last month's snap polls.

The ruling Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party wanted the polls as early as August, while the commission had recommended dates in late September or early October.

But the date was pushed back after the fringe parties insisted on more time for campaigning.

The proposal is only a recommendation and the government could still change the date, insisted senior TRT official Sora-at Klinpratoom, who attended the meeting.

"Thai Rak Thai would like to see the new poll organized earlier than that," he said.

The leading opposition party, which refused to attend the meeting, said it would accept the date but renewed a call for the commission to resign.

"We will run in the new election no matter what the date is. We are ready for the polls," Democrat party spokesman Ong-art Klampaiboon told reporters.

"But what we are against is the existing election commission. We think that they are not legitimate and should not organize any more elections," he said.

Analysts have warned that an election in the second half of the year could encourage defections from TRT after its leader Thaksin Shinawatra was forced to step aside as prime minister in the wake of weeks of street protests in Bangkok.

Thaksin's party won the April 2 polls with 56 percent, but his victory was undermined by the opposition boycott which encouraged many people to cast protest ballots.

Thai law requires that candidates belong to their parties for at least 90 days before the vote, but an October election date would give politicians plenty of time to rethink their allegiances.

"It will unlock the 90-day shackle and this would reshape party politics. This would very much realign political party factions," said political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak from Chulalongkorn University. "Without the 90-day rule, what we're going to see ahead of the elections is a very fluid movement among factions between parties."

But a longer election period also means more political uncertainty for Thailand, which has already been mired in crisis for three months.

"For Thailand, the longer it takes for the election to take place, the longer we have uncertainty," Thitinan said.

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