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Advance voting to go ahead

A soldier scans with his binoculars from a vantage point as protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban leads a march through Pratunam in downtown Bangkok yesterday. Security has been stepped up for the protest leaders following rumours of possible attacks targeting

A soldier scans with his binoculars from a vantage point as protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban leads a march through Pratunam in downtown Bangkok yesterday. Security has been stepped up for the protest leaders following rumours of possible attacks targeting

PM to meet EC on Tuesday to discuss rescheduling the February 2 election

ADVANCE VOTING for the February 2 general election will be held today amid rallies by anti-government protesters nationwide.

However, the Election Commission will meet with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Tuesday at 2pm to discuss whether next Sunday's election should be postponed.

There have been signs of looming election chaos.

People's Democratic Reform Committee secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban said his colleague Chumphon Junsai was due to lead protesters to rally at Bang Bon district office this morning. Bang Bon is a stronghold of Chalerm Yoobamrung, head of the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order.

Meanwhile, Thaworn Senneam would lead a rally at Bang Kapi district office at 5am. Other destinations include Din Daeng, Phya Thai and Dusit district offices.

PDRC leader Issara Somchai said yesterday he had learnt that protesters from the Lat Phrao rally site will protest today at the Chatuchak, Bang Khen and Saphan Sung district offices, which are other venues for advance and absentee voting.

The PDRC leaders have also asked supporters in the provinces to rally at local voting venues.

In Surat Thani, protesters began setting up a rally stage yesterday afternoon, in front of Police Provincial Bureau 8's Police Training Centre in Muang district, which will be used as a polling station for advance voting.

The protesters announced their move in defiance of the emergency decree in effect in Bangkok and its adjacent provinces since Wednesday. As many as 7,000 police officers will be deployed at polling stations nationwide to allow advance voting and deter anti-government protesters, Metropolitan Police deputy chief Pol Maj-General Chanthawit Ramasuta said earlier.

PM's secretary-general Suranand Vejjajiva said yesterday the venue for the meeting between the Yingluck and the EC would be the same place as the Cabinet meeting, but that location was yet to be decided. He said Yingluck would tomorrow meet the government's legal team to consider options following the Constitutional Court's ruling that the polls can be rescheduled.

The court ruled on Friday that the polls can be rescheduled and said that this would be the joint responsibility of the caretaker prime minister and the EC chief.

EC member Teerawat Terarotwit said after an EC meeting yesterday the main issue was not deciding the poll date, but how to end the rift in society before the election.

"Is it possible for the conflicting parties to talk and take one step back? Otherwise there will be opposition even if we schedule a new date for the election," he said.

"The EC has reported all along that it is impossible to hold free and fair elections on February 2. There have been clear signs pointing to that. But the EC chairman and the other commissioners will discuss with the premier the rescheduling of the election."

He said that the advance balloting today must proceed, as the election had not been cancelled. However, there was only a slim chance for advance voting opening in 15 provinces, mostly in the South.

He said it was not clear how long the poll should be delayed. If the delay is too long, the EC might be criticised for allowing the current government to continue as caretaker for too long. However, too short a period might not solve the problems. In any case, conflicting parties and other stakeholders should come forward to talk.

A Democrat source said the party had not discussed whether to run in the election if it was postponed.

"It's not clear if the election will just be postponed, which we cannot join as we have already boycotted it, or whether the whole process will be restarted," the source said.

"The party leader always says that we must run in the election. The problem is that the atmosphere is not healthy for the election. We have to also see what the PDRC will do."

Suthep said earlier his group would not end the protest even if the election was postponed. The PDRC wanted the Yingluck caretaker government to quit to pave the way for the national reform.

Meanwhile, high-ranking source from Pheu Thai Party, who asked not to be named, said the party's stance is to still push for the election on February 2. Yingluck over the weekend would discuss with the party's prominent members on its stance in talks with the EC, the source said.

The source said postponement of the election would not be promising for the party especially when the government is facing many issues including the cases being investigated by independent agencies.

The cases include the rice-pledging scheme and the charter amendment cases. If the National Anti-Corruption Commission indicts a minister or even the prime minister, they would have to suspend from work, the source said.

"If the election is postponed, a lot of our supporters would be unhappy. They want us to move on, not yield to Suthep. In a situation like this, we believe we won't benefit if it is postponed this time. It will benefit Suthep instead," he said, adding the election will somehow guarantee legitimacy for Pheu Thai and many are happy to support it to be the government.

Somsak Prissananantakul, an adviser to the Chart Thai Pattana Party, yesterday urged the caretaker government and the EC to urgently discuss rescheduling of the election date.

He said under the current political situation, it would be difficult to hold the election on February 2 as there were several obstructions along the election process.

Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai said the party would back a delay of the election if that was a solution to the impasse. "We need clear answers from the Constitutional Court and the EC about which articles of the Constitution protect and ensure that if the election is deferred, the government will not face legal action for dereliction of duty. The EC should also ask the PDRC if it will stop protesting and if the Democrats will run in the poll."






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