Thai Government Will Push Ahead With Feb. Poll Amid Protest

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the election set for Feb. 2 will proceed even as protesters blockade central Bangkok for a third day to call for her removal.

Speaking after a meeting today in Bangkok with representatives of political parties and security agencies, Yingluck said the majority of participants supported the election going ahead, with the government’s ability to defer a vote also limited by the country’s constitution.

“We have to comply with the election decree that called the election on Feb. 2,” Yingluck told reporters. “If you don’t want this government, you should exercise your right at the ballot box. We hope the Election Commission will perform its duty in arranging the election.”

Yingluck has faced more than two months of anti-government protests aimed at erasing her influence and that of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted as premier in a 2006 coup. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former member of the opposition Democrat Party, has said protests will continue until Yingluck steps aside and an unelected council is installed in her place.

The Election Commission has urged the government to defer the vote until April or May, saying the political environment is too tense to proceed next month. Election Commissioners did not attend today’s meeting with Yingluck, which was boycotted by leaders of the protest group and the Democrat party.

‘Her Right’

Yingluck should first have talks with the Election Commission, Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said yesterday. The commission may seek a ruling from the Constitutional Court on whether the ballot can be delayed, he said.

“It’s a dilemma,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University. “According to the constitution, it’s her right to continue.”

Postponing the election could benefit Suthep, he said. “The election is a crucial crossroad. If the election goes ahead, if people out in the country turn up in massive numbers, that shows a lot about the rest of Thailand, apart from the people in Bangkok,” and would give Yingluck legitimacy.

Demonstrators gathered on Jan. 13 to block off areas of Bangkok such as its central business districts, forcing commuters onto crowded trains and ferries. Two people were injured in gunfire near a rally at Patumwan intersection around midnight, the Bangkok Emergency Medical Service said on its website.

Explosive Device

A small explosive device was thrown at the housing compound of Democrat Party Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Bangkok Post reported today. No one was injured, according to the paper.

The baht declined 0.4 percent, the most since Jan. 2, to 32.878 per dollar as of 4:39 p.m. in Bangkok, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The benchmark SET Index of shares slid 1.5 percent at close, the biggest drop since Jan. 2.

“Political turmoil will continue to cloud the Thai stock market, with no solution” anytime soon, Poramet Tongbua, an investment strategist at Bualuang Securities Pcl in Bangkok, said by phone. “Any delay in the election will not end the crisis because it is short of the protesters’ demand.”

Demonstrators initially took to the streets in late October to oppose a proposed amnesty law that they said would benefit Yingluck’s brother, which the government later abandoned. The demonstrations then morphed into a broader movement to erase Thaksin’s political influence.

Choosing Sides

Allies of Thaksin have won the past five elections, including two since his ouster, on support from rural northern and northeastern regions. The protesters, mostly middle-class Bangkokians and Democrat party supporters from Thailand’s southern provinces, 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 was politically motivated.

Yingluck has refused demands from the demonstrators to resign, arguing that the almost 16 million people who voted for her in 2011 deserve a say in the nation’s future. Clashes have left eight people dead and hundreds injured.

The protesters have told civil servants and soldiers that they must choose a side in the conflict. Their leaders’ refusal to negotiate with Yingluck, and mounting legal cases against government efforts to change the constitution and implement spending plans, have stoked rumors that the military may stage a coup, which the army chief hasn’t ruled out.

Protest leader Suthep says electoral democracy should be suspended until his unelected council of “good people” can reform politics and remove the influence of Yingluck’s family. He faces murder charges for ordering a deadly crackdown on pro-Thaksin demonstrators in 2010, when the Democrats were in power.

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