Sat, Mar 22, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Thai court voids protest-hit polls, new vote looms

AFP, BANGKOK

Thailand’s general election held last month was declared invalid yesterday after disruption by opposition protesters, setting the scene for talks between warring political parties about new polls to end months of deadlock.

While the ruling from the Constitutional Court further delays the formation of a new government, it also offers a possible exit from the political stalemate — if the opposition agrees to end its boycott of the ballot box.

The Election Commission said it planned to propose talks between political party leaders about a new election date.

However, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s supporters fear she will be removed from office before another vote is held.

She has been charged with negligence by the National Anti-Corruption Commission in connection with a rice subsidy scheme and could face an impeachment vote in the upper house of parliament within weeks.

Yingluck has faced more than four months of street demonstrations seeking to force her from office and install an unelected “people’s council” to oversee political reforms.

“Their aim is to put pressure in every possible way to appoint a neutral prime minister,” said Jatuporn Prompan, chairman of the pro-government Red Shirts movement.

Political violence has claimed the lives of 23 people in recent weeks in gun and grenade attacks, mostly targeting protesters.

Thailand has been deeply polarized since a military coup in 2006 that ousted Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon-turned-politician who lives in Dubai to avoid prison for corruption.

The Constitutional Court, set up after a 2006 coup, has a record of ruling against Yingluck’s family and its political allies, and yesterday’s verdict raised eyebrows among some observers.

“The court has too obviously and too openly appeared to side with the agenda of the anti-government groups,” Thailand-based author and academic David Streckfuss said.

“In doing so, the court has put its reputation and its integrity at risk,” Streckfuss said.

The court ruled 6:3 to nullify the election on the grounds that voting was not held for the entire country on the same day.

Protesters blocked candidate registrations in 28 constituencies and also caused the closure of about 10 percent of polling stations.

The opposition Democrats said it was too soon to say whether they would participate in a new election, but hinted they might be willing to return to mainstream politics if all sides could reach an agreement.

“If we can talk with the government to ensure that the election is peaceful, without protests and acceptable to all parties, then the Democrats as a political party are ready to contest the polls,” spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said.

However, opposition protesters have threatened to block any new ballot, calling for vaguely defined reforms first to tackle alleged corruption.

“People will not agree with an election. They want reform and this time our people will come out in every province to make the election more invalid,” protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said on Thursday.

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