Thailand's Constitutional Court yesterday opened the way to put off a general election the government has set for February 2, piling pressure on 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, arguing that 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 ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra who now lives in self-imposed exile.
However, yesterday's ruling was not clear cut. 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 February 2 if Yingluck's government dug in its heels.
"If the government doesn't agree to postpone the election, then the election will go ahead," Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said.
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. Nine people have died and dozens have been wounded in violence, including two grenade attacks in the capital.