Thailand in power vacuum as court rules February’s election results invalid
Opposition party may contest new elections, offering a way out of political impasse, as verdict weakens PM Yingluck's grip on power
Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled February's general election invalid, in a further roadblock to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's efforts to form a new government and leaving the country in political limbo.
The court judges ruled by six votes to three that the February 2 election was unconstitutional because voting failed to take place on the same day around the country. Yingluck had called an election on February 2 in a bid to defuse anti-government protests, and since then has headed a caretaker government with limited powers.
It is unclear when a new election will take place. While the court ruling 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 commission could discuss with the government about issuing a new royal decree for a new date or we could ask the heads of all political parties to decide together when best to set the new election date," said Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, an Election Commission member.
Anti-government protesters had stopped voting in about a fifth of constituencies, and in 28 of them voting was not possible at all because candidates were unable to register.
But Yingluck'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.
The protests are the latest chapter in an eight-year crisis that pits Bangkok's establishment against supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in exile to avoid a jail term for graft.
Over the past five months, the protesters have shut government offices and at times blocked major roads in Bangkok to try to force Yingluck out. The number of protesters has dwindled in recent weeks and the streets have been relatively calm since several big protest camps were shut at the start of March, allowing the government to lift a state of emergency on Wednesday.
Yingluck's Puea Thai party accused the court of trying to "write its own constitution and expropriate sovereignty from the people".
"Their aim is to put pressure in every possible way to appoint a neutral prime minister," said the chairman of the pro-government "red shirts", Jatuporn Prompan.
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," said Thailand-based author and scholar David Streckfuss. "In doing so, the court has put its reputation and its integrity at risk," he said.
The opposition Democrats said that 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 can 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.
Opposition protesters, however, have threatened to block any new ballot, calling for vaguely defined reforms first to tackle alleged corruption.
Thaksin's red-shirt supporters are beginning to sound more militant, raising the prospect of more violence if Yingluck is forced out by the courts, the anti-corruption commission or by other means.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission could recommend impeachment in coming days, probably by March 31.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Bloomberg