April 23, 2014 00:00 By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Democrats keep out of meeting of political parties, citing physical threat to Abhisit
A new election could take place on July 20 at the earliest, but could be delayed until September. And if conflicting parties do not settle their differences before the election, the risk of another failed poll due to obstruction is “very high”, Election Commission (EC) member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn told leaders of almost 60 political parties yesterday.
The meeting between the EC and the parties yesterday failed to finalise an election date. Somchai said the EC would have to consult on the date with the government. It proposed three choices: July 20, August 17 and September 14.
“If [some] poll units can’t hold an election, we will [try] again. The EC will keep on setting elections until [an election] takes place at all polling units. We have a deadline of 180 days after election day [to have members of Parliament take their seats],” he said. “The problem is not with the EC or political parties, but with the conflicting parties that will have to settle their differences, otherwise the risk of having a failed election will be very high,” said Somchai.
He said another concern was whether parties would have a problem campaigning in some parts of the country, adding that this could be a reason cited for a possible nullification of a new election.
Somchai was speaking to representatives from 58 parties attending the meeting. Conspicuously missing were representatives from the opposition Democrat Party, which boycotted the previous election. Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva cited safety concerns for his abrupt decision not to attend.
A former Democrat MP, Kulladej Puapattanakul, yesterday showed up outside the meeting venue at the Miracle Grand Convention Hotel with 30 security guards, saying they were prepared to protect Abhisit. The party later submitted a letter to the EC asking it to inform the Democrat Party of the results of the meeting.
Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said later yesterday that the last-minute decision not to attend the meeting was made after detailed information was received about a plan to target Abhisit with violence. The party had also learned that an armed group had announced a possible suicide attack targeting Abhisit.
EC chairman Supachai Somcharoen said the EC had discussed the issue with the Democrats and agreed that Abhisit should not attend, as the possibility of violence could have a big impact on the meeting.
In the meeting room at the hotel, a large banner from the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) was placed on a side wall by a follower of monk Buddha Issara, a PDRC leader. It read: “Reform Before Election”. The monk and 100 followers came to protest before the meeting began and vowed to obstruct any election if it was not preceded by national reform.
Bhokin Bhalakula, an adviser to the ruling Pheu Thai Party and deputy chair of its Party Affairs Committee, said it was imperative a new election take place as soon as possible.
Bhokin said it was best to settle differences through an election and not a gunfight. “If there’s no casting of the ballots, then we can’t solve the problems… Emotions are high and people are no longer using reason.”
Bhokin added that until an election date is set, Thailand would remain in a state of limbo, rife with speculation about a possible coup.
“It’s not important who will form the next government. Thailand must keep walking,” Bhokin said.
Nikorn Chamnong, an adviser to the Chart Thai Pattana Party, said Thailand needed an election soon, as it could not afford to remain in a state of political vacuum.
Smaller political parties at the meeting, numbering more than 50, were unhappy with EC rules allotting 15 minutes each to the two major parties and three minutes to small parties.
Many asked how the EC could assure that a new election would not be nullified. Some asked whether the EC had taken legal action against those who obstructed the previous election. Others questioned what would happen if the Democrat Party did not participate and whether there would be an effective opposition.
Damrong Phidet, leader of the Forest Land Reclamation Party, said an election was badly needed. “The country is stuck. How can we live like this? If things continue like this we will continue to sink.”