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Thai Court Says February Poll Can Be Delayed Amid Protests

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Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that an election scheduled for Feb. 2 can be delayed and that both Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Election Commission have the power to set a new date.

Judges unanimously voted that the timing of the ballot can be changed, and a majority ruled that Yingluck and the election body have the power and responsibility to set a new date, the court said in a statement yesterday. The court on Jan. 23 had accepted a petition from the Election Commission asking it to determine who had the power to postpone the vote.

“If holding the election as scheduled will create serious damage to the country and the people, the Election Commission must inform the prime minister and cabinet to consider issuing a royal decree to set a new election date,” the court said. Yingluck and Election Commission Chairman Supachai Somcharoen have a responsibility to act, it said.

The government imposed a state of emergency in Bangkok Jan. 22 after an escalation of the violence that has killed nine people and wounded 557 since protests began in October. Suthep Thaugsuban, an opposition politician leading the rallies, has vowed to continue blockades of major Bangkok intersections that began Jan. 13 until Yingluck resigns.

The Election Commission has urged the government to defer the vote until May, saying the political environment is too tense to proceed next month. Candidates in some southern provinces were unable to register for the poll because of a blockade by protesters, which means parliament won’t achieve the quorum needed even if the election goes ahead.

Stocks Gain

Yingluck and her legal advisers had said she didn’t have the constitutional power to delay the poll.

With the commission’s stance clear, the pressure on Yingluck will increase, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.  

“The Thai divide at this time is very much on the Feb. 2 polls, for or against,” he said. “Now the likelihood has grown for the postponement, and therefore the tension, the fault lines will deepen.”

Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said the commission would try to discuss a possible delay with Yingluck next week. The new poll date should be within the next three months so that the caretaker government shouldn’t be in office for too long, Somchai said by phone.

Thailand’s SET Index rose 0.5 percent to close at 1,314.63 yesterday, the highest level since Dec. 25. The baht was little changed.

Yingluck dissolved parliament Dec. 9 and announced the election a day after opposition Democrat party members resigned en masse to join the rallies, which at their peak drew more than 200,000 people. Protesters want to erase the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

To contact the reporters on this story: Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok at suttinee1@bloomberg.net; Anuchit Nguyen in Bangkok at anguyen@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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