Thailand’s Election Commission plans to meet members of the nation’s biggest political parties today to discuss ways to ease tension before a Feb. 2 vote that’s being threatened by growing anti-government protests.
Groups opposed to caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra plan to surround government ministries and occupy 20 major intersections in Bangkok on Jan. 13 until she agrees to step down and allow an unelected council to reform the country’s electoral system, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former opposition lawmaker who is leading the movement, said yesterday.
Yingluck’s administration has endured more than two months of street demonstrations that Suthep says are aimed at erasing her family’s corrupting political influence. Allies of Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, have won the past five elections, including two since his ouster in a 2006 coup. The baht fell for an 11th day today, the longest losing streak on record, and the benchmark stock index slumped to a 15-month low.
“At 9 a.m. on January 13 we will begin our seizure of Bangkok,” Suthep told supporters at Democracy Monument late yesterday. “We will stay as long as it takes to achieve our goal. After the seizure, we will set up a government and a parliament of the people.”
The baht retreated 0.1 percent to 32.906 per dollar from Dec. 27 as of 10:49 a.m. in Bangkok, according to prices from regional banks compiled by Bloomberg. It touched 32.958 today, the weakest level since March 1, 2010. The SET Index fell 2 percent to 1,272.27, headed for its lowest close since September 13, 2012. Hotel operator Dusit Thani Pcl slumped 7.4 percent and Central Plaza Hotel Pcl, which owns hotels and restaurants, fell 4.6 percent on concern travelers may shun the Thai capital.
Election commissioners plan to meet with representatives of Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party and the opposition Democrat party later today, Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said yesterday. Eight people have been killed in clashes between rival political groups in the past month.
Suthep’s supporters say Thailand’s electoral democracy must be suspended so an appointed council can rewrite the political rules to make sure Yingluck and her family can’t return to power. Anti-government groups say Thaksin’s electoral dominance in the country’s rural north and northeast is based on populist policies that damage the nation’s economy.
The protesters are closely aligned with the Democrat party, which plans to boycott the poll. The party and protesters say Yingluck’s government is illegitimate and run from abroad by Thaksin, who faces a two-year jail term for corruption if he returns in a case he says is politically motivated.
Yingluck’s offers to negotiate with the protesters have been refused. She has ruled out resigning to make way for the unelected council, saying the roughly 16 million people who voted for her in 2011 should have a say in choosing the nation’s political future at the ballot box.
Yingluck has asked the military to help the police maintain order before the election, the Bangkok Post reported today, citing an unidentified person at the Defense Ministry.
The army is at “a difficult crossroad,” Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said last week. When asked whether the door remained open for the army to stage a coup, Prayuth said “I won’t say open or closed. Everything depends on the situation.” Thailand has experienced nine coups and more than 20 prime ministers since 1946.
Suthep said 20 protest stages will be erected at major intersections in Bangkok and demonstrators will cut the supply of power to Government House and the homes of Yingluck and her ministers, he said.
In past months, the protesters have occupied ministry buildings and Government House, and cut power to Bangkok police headquarters. Candidates for the Feb. 2 election weren’t able to register in 28 southern constituencies because demonstrators blocked the venues, the Bangkok Post reported today.
The police haven’t executed arrest warrants issued for Suthep and other protest leaders, and have mostly avoided clashing with demonstrators because of concern that bloodshed may prompt the army to step in to restore order.