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The most difficult election in Thailand's history?

Protesters block candidacy registration in Songkhla on Wednesday.

Protesters block candidacy registration in Songkhla on Wednesday.

My friends are betting on whether the general election scheduled for February 2 will actually take place. As of yesterday the odds stood at 50:50.

That speaks volumes about the state of political affairs in this country. Nobody is quite sure about anything anymore. Unlike previous polls, many candidates who have successfully registered for the election have yet to put up their campaign posters in the provinces. One of them told me: "No candidate wants to waste money mounting posters or distributing leaflets because they aren't sure whether the ballot-casting will happen or not."

Candidacy registration has been far from smooth, especially in at least eight provinces in the South where protesters have blocked the process. Election Commission officials in some of those troubled constituencies have quit en masse, citing their inability to perform the task up to normal standards.

Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, one of the five national Election Commissioners, has publicly stated that this is the "most difficult" election ever held in the political history of the country. He and EC chairman Supachai Somcharoen have urged the government to consider postponing the polling in the face of possible violence and unrest if the caretaker administration insists in going ahead with the snap election.

Premier Yingluck Shinawatra has so far refused to yield to the two main demands of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) led by Suthep Thaugsuban: That she quit and that the upcoming election be postponed. She has also said she is open to negotiations.

The EC's Somchai has gone out of his way to try to strike a deal between the two opposing groups, but so far to no avail. Both sides have refused to meet face to face, although an EC "broker" has met separately with the rivals.

EC chairman Supachai has made no secret of his concern at the government's insistence on its stand. He said violence might break out and the caretaker government would be conducting its business in a restless manner.

Also, there is a high risk that the election will not produce the minimum requirement of 95 per cent of the total number of MPs nationwide. In that case, the whole process could be declared null and void. Supachai estimated that up to 26 constituencies might not be able to complete registration.

Meanwhile, the government has claimed that the election date has been stipulated by Royal Decree as February 2, so can't be changed. But the EC, which is constitutionally tasked with the job of organising the election, has taken a different stand: Yes, the ballot-casting can be legally moved to a later date, and the government has been informed of the EC's position on this issue.

Pheu Thai Party leader Charupong Ruangsuwan has gone one step further by publicly suggesting that the EC might have conspired with the Democrat Party, which has boycotted the election, and the PDRC to sabotage the election.

That obviously has pitted the country's election organiser against the ruling party and the caretaker government - a new stand-off that adds further confusion to the already chaotic situation.

The military's top brass have tried desperately to take a "neutral position" in the political showdown, although it is obvious that if given a choice they too would prefer the election to be postponed. The possibility of a new round of clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters has caused consternation among military leaders.

Whether it was a slip of the tongue or not, Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has added fuel to the fire by refusing to rule out the possibility of a coup if things get out of hand.

It wasn't exactly a threat from the armed forces, whose leaders have insisted on not being dragged into the political stand-off. Prayuth had on previous occasions firmly denied that the Army would consider another coup, because it would not be acceptable to most Thais.

But when a reporter asked him during a routine "ping-pong banter" whether he was ruling out the possibility of a coup, the army commander-in-chief responded: "I am not ruling anything in or ruling anything out."

That alone was enough to set the political scene astir, with red-shirt leader Thida Tavornseth declaring that she was issuing an alert to all red shirts to be ready to come out on the streets to protest against any attempted coup.

Despite the posturing from all sides, it would be stating the obvious to say that the election won't be a smooth one.

All detectable signs point to an inevitable postponement of the election. For that to happen, the caretaker government and the PDRC leadership and other related parties will have to come to a compromise on how to proceed with the "reform process".

Without the latter, the former will remain in limbo.


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