Thai Election Likely July 20 in Latest Attempt to End Stalemate

Thailand’s government, which has been operating for months as a caretaker with limited powers amid political unrest, reached an agreement with the Election Commission to hold new general elections on July 20.

Election Commissioner Puchong Nutrawong said the organization will draft a decree calling for the fresh vote that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra can send for royal approval. “The government and EC are determined to make the new election successful,” Puchong told reporters yesterday in Bangkok.

A July election would be the second attempt to choose a government since Yingluck dissolved parliament in December in a bid to calm weeks of opposition-backed street protests aimed at removing her from office. The protesters, whose blockade of some polling stations prompted a court to annul a Feb. 2 vote, have said they will disrupt any ballot held before rules are rewritten to make sure Yingluck and her family are excluded from politics.

Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanjana said the Election Commission’s proposed poll date was acceptable and the Cabinet would consider the draft decree next week. The government had previously called for elections as early as June and had accused the commission of deliberately delaying the organization of a new poll.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand Index rose 0.2 percent yesterday to 1,414.94. The election date was announced after the end of trading. The index has gained 9 percent this year, compared with the 0.8 percent decline in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. The baht has gained 1.1 percent against the dollar this year. Yesterday, it fell 0.3 percent to 32.357. Thai markets are closed today for May Day.

Previous Boycott

The main opposition Democrat Party boycotted the Feb. 2 vote, and the party’s leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, warned April 29 against scheduling new elections before resolving political tensions that have led to the deaths of at least 25 people in the past six months.

“If we have a quick election and disputes continue, I think most people would prefer a delayed election that goes well,” Abhisit told reporters April 29 after his own meeting with the Election Commission.

Yesterday’s agreement may complicate Abhisit’s recent efforts to find a solution for the political impasse, Democrat Party spokesman Chavanont Intarakomalsut told reporters. The party will meet at an “appropriate” time to decide whether to contest the vote, he said.

“If Yingluck is confident that this election can be held smoothly, then please go ahead and take responsibility for what will happen, because the Democrats think that the upcoming election won’t go well for sure,” Chavanont said.

Constitutional Court

It’s possible that Yingluck won’t remain in office long enough to contest the poll. The Constitutional Court may decide as early as next week whether she abused her power to benefit a relative during the transfer of a security official in 2011.

The case has the potential to force Yingluck and her ministers from office and spark a constitutional crisis, depending on how the court interprets the charter. The protesters, led by former Democrat powerbroker Suthep Thaugsuban, have said a power vacuum may allow them to install the temporary, unelected government they seek.

Suthep late yesterday urged his supporters to gather for a “major rally” in Bangkok on May 14 “to regain power from the current group of people who have been abusing the authority we gave them.”

Yingluck’s opponents accuse her of corruption and being a puppet of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and lives abroad to avoid a jail sentence in a corruption case he says was politically motivated. Parties linked to Thaksin have won the past five national elections.

Yingluck has denied the abuse-of-power charge as well as allegations that she neglected her duty as head of a committee that oversaw the government’s rice-subsidy program. A move to replace the government without an election may be met with protests from Yingluck’s supporters that could lead to further violence.

Puchong played down the possibility of Suthep’s protesters derailing the July poll, and said security agencies and the military would assist in holding the election.

“Please don’t guess on what will happen in the future,” he told reporters. “We want to have positive thinking here.”

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