Thai ruling party moves away from postponing polls
The continuing constitutional crisis in Thailand entered a new phase as the government questioned the legitimacy of a court decision postponing elections
Thailand’s ruling party on Saturday questioned the reasoning behind a court decision saying a general election in just over a week can be postponed, but held open the possibility that it might put off the polls if its political rivals recognise the legitimacy of a new vote.
Officials from Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s ruling Puea Thai Party said that a Constitutional Court ruling saying it could postpone the polls seemed to have no solid legal basis.
However, they hinted the government would consider a postponement of the February 2 polls if the opposition Democrat Party, which plans to boycott the polls, agrees to take part, and if anti-government demonstrators cease their protests demanding that Yingluck step down before any election so that an appointed interim government can implement anti-corruption reforms.
But neither the Democrats nor the protesters have agreed to such terms.
“This isn’t about compromise,” protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said on Saturday. “The people [protesters] will never go home because what the people want is political and national reform.”
The debate over postponing the election came as polling stations across the country were preparing for advance voting on Sunday, despite threats from protesters to block that. Volunteers and election workers turned up on Saturday to get instructions and training at stations that in some parts of the country are likely to see confrontation when the polls open.
Problems are most likely in Bangkok where there are 50 venues, and in Thailand’s south, a stronghold of the opposition.
Yingluck’s government is under extreme pressure from the protesters, who for more than two months have been out in force on the streets of the capital. The protest group, calling itself the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, has occupied key intersections in the capital and tried to shut down government offices and prevent civil servants from working.
The protesters say Yingluck’s government is carrying on the practices of Thaksin Shinawatra, her billionaire brother who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, by using the family fortune and state funds to influence voters and cement its hold on power.
Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 after street protests accusing him of corruption and abuse of power. The coup triggered a sometimes-violent and still active struggle for power between Thaksin’s supporters and opponents. He fled into exile in 2008 to avoid a two-year prison sentence for a conflict of interest.
The government this past week imposed a state of emergency on Bangkok and surrounding areas after a spate of protest-related violence. The measure allows suspension of many civil liberties. The protesters say they will ignore any measures imposed by the decree, which is valid for 60 days.
The deputy spokesman of the ruling party, Anusorn Iam-saard, told a news conference that several issues needed to be cleared up if the polls are to be postponed.
These included the Democrat Party agreeing to take part in any scheduled vote, that they end the street protests, that the Democrats and the protesters accept the rescheduled election’s results, and that the Democrats and the demonstrators do not resume their protests after the election.
One Puea Thai candidate, Thanin Boonsuwan, suggested that the court’s ruling did not meet conditions set down in law or by precedent. He said that the court decision was merely an opinion and did not mandate a postponement.
The commission had petitioned the court for a ruling.
The court ruled that the power for postponement rests with the prime minister in consultation with the Election Commission’s chief. It said delays were justified under the law “to prevent public disaster and severe damage from happening to the nation or the people.”
The protesters staged more protest marches on Saturday to show defiance of the regulations set under the state of emergency decree.