January 30, 2014 00:00 By ATTAYUTH BOOTSRIPOOM
THOUGH PEOPLE are hoping there is no bloodshed when voters step out to cast their ballots on Sunday, clashes are bound to erupt judging from the rising tensions and the loss of lives in the run-up to the election.
This fear is not unfounded, given what happened during advance voting last Sunday, when a protest leader was killed and many clashes erupted between voters and People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters.
In addition to the violence, though the February 2 general election is bound to go ahead, the process will be far from complete because votes will not be cast in several constituencies. This means, the country will inevitably step into a power vacuum.
Now, if both sides were truly sincere in ironing out their differences without thinking of their own self-interest, things would not have gone this far.
Postponing the February 2 election is not necessarily a solution, but could serve as a means to get both political camps to take part and push the Democrat Party to stop boycotting the polls. If both sides agree to move forward by starting over, they can resort to solving their conflicts using available legal channels.
If there is a political vacuum and a new government cannot be formed, then the authorities can either nullify the election or the Election Commission can hand the issue over to the Constitutional Court. Under law, an election can be nullified for several reasons, ranging from problems in the candidacy registration process to a failure in carrying out advance voting in many provinces.
Once the court nullifies the election, the government can issue a new royal decree to call a new one.
A precedent for this was set on April 2, 2006, when the then-ruling Thai Rak Thai Party called a snap election, but the opposition Democrat Party boycotted it and sought a Constitutional Court ruling to nullify it. The court invalidated the 2006 election on grounds that voters were not able to cast their ballots secretly due to the way the ballot boxes were arranged. So, a new royal decree for a new election was issued.
This time, a new election date can only be set if all sides agree to pull the country out of this ongoing political crisis. The caretaker government needs to be sincere to end the deadlock by accepting reform in some way. Also, the PDRC should realise that refusal to drop some of their demands will close all doors for negotiation. Plus, the Democrats need to agree to join the election.
Now the question is, are all players willing to look for a solution? Or will the government continue using elections as a rubber stamp to endorse their return to power, while the PDRC continues making impractical demands, with the Democrats using this as a political tool.
If the two sides do not agree to meet halfway, then the February 2 elections will only go down in history as one that led the country toward total failure.