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Democrats decide today

Newly appointed chairman of the Election Commission Supachai Somcharoen, seen lighting a candle, leads a ceremony yesterday to take the oath along with four new EC members.

Newly appointed chairman of the Election Commission Supachai Somcharoen, seen lighting a candle, leads a ceremony yesterday to take the oath along with four new EC members.

Party meeting to decide on whether to field candidates or boycott Feb 2 general election

The opposition Democrat Party is facing a dilemma in having to decide today whether to field candidates in the general election scheduled for February 2 amid calls from within the party to boycott the poll.

The most talked-about issue amid the current political impasse has been whether to bring about reforms first or hold the elections first. The anti-government protesters want national reforms before the election, while the Pheu Thai-led caretaker government wants to hold the election first and then proceed with the reforms.

A party resolution, in general assembly, on the issue, which might be reached tomorrow at the latest, will be decided by a new 35-member executive board, which will be elected this morning. It's likely that Abhisit Vejjajiva would retain his post for another term while former MP from Phitsanulok, Juti Krairiksh, is tipped to become the party's new secretary-general, a party source said.

Heated debate is expected today on the issue of boycotting the election. The source said opinions within the party were divided. One camp led by Abhisit, party chief adviser Chuan Leekpai, former MPs from Bangkok and some southern MPs close to Chuan disagreed with the idea of boycotting the election.

The pro-election faction argues that running in the election after the House dissolution is a democratic way. But they agreed that a national reform is needed after the poll. If the party decided to boycott the election, there would be no opposition party in the House until its term ended, the camp argued.

However, the other camp supported protest leader and former Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban's demand for national reforms before an election. They argue that without reforms, all problems will not be solved.

Early this month, the party's MPs resigned en masse to put pressure on the Yingluck government. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the House on December 9.

However, a Democrat boycott of the election will not be an obstacle in holding the election. The Democrats and other opposition parties had boycotted the election in April 2006, called by then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra under Thai Rak Thai. The Thai Rak Thai Party won a landslide victory, but several candidates of the party failed to meet the minimum requirement of getting at least 20 per cent of eligible votes in a constituency if the constituency has only one candidate. The Constitutional Court found it guilty of paying smaller parties to contest the election to fulfil the 20-per-cent rule, which led to the dissolution of the party.

Pheu Thai this time has already prepared to face the legal obstacles and won't allow a repeat of the situation.

"We are not worried. If the Democrats boycott the poll, we could have 60 small parties field candidates for 375 constituency-based MPs to avoid the 20-per-cent minimum votes rule," former deputy House speaker Apiwan Wiriyachai said.

He said Pheu Thai's strategy committee would call a meeting after the Democrat Party decides on whether to take part in the election or not.

Apiwan said the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) would be acting like gangsters if its members blocked voting at some polling stations on election day.

The PDRC leaders on Sunday announced a blockade of all polling stations and threatened to create political disturbances in some areas to obstruct the holding of the election.

He said he will recommend at the party's meeting that it should mention its constitutional amendment plan on the election manifesto.

"We could have a referendum on whether to amend the current charter or not at the same time as the general election," he said.

A Pheu Thai source said the party would field Yingluck and her brother-in-law and former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat as No 1 and No 2 party-list candidates respectively.

"She is still popular. But if she feels she has had enough of politics, then Somchai can replace her," a party source said.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission's newly appointed chairman, Supachai Somcharoen, insisted that the national election would take place on February 2.

He foresees no hurdles in hosting the elections, despite calls for a boycott from some political parties. Some anti-government protesters are planning to disrupt the process, when the EC opens registration for party-list candidates.

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