The Nation



Democrats slam door on poll

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, seated right, announces the party

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, seated right, announces the party

Abhisit says election without reforms would not restore public confidence

The Democrat Party, previously the main opposition party, announced yesterday it would not be contesting the February 2 general elections, citing the need for political reform to restore public confidence in Thai politicians and political parties.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the decision was reached by the party's executive committee following careful consideration, with "genuine participation" from party members. He said the party's branches all over the country were sounded out and they all agreed that the party should not field candidates in the upcoming election.

He apologised to the party supporters for this decision but he also added that he had a feeling the Democrats had a good chance of winning if it contested this election.

Abhisit said the country's politics has been a failure over the past eight to nine years because the democratic process has been distorted. This has led to distrust in political parties and elections. He said that without reform, the politics would be mired in corruption.

He also blamed the political failure on the country's lost opportunities.

Abhisit said the caretaker government, when it came to power with a strong majority, had ignored an opportunity to rectify the problems and take the country out of the political failure. Instead, the government focused on personal benefit rather than national interest. He pointed to the government's support for a blanket amnesty bill that led to widespread public outrage.

"The crisis of faith caused by the government has affected other parties in general. The Feb 2 election is unlikely to solve the problem and bring the country out of the vicious cycle," Abhisit said.

"The country has come to this point because the government betrayed the public trust," he said.

The former prime minister said that the Democrat boycott would not affect the election's legitimacy directly. It would depend on the eligible voters whether they view this election as legitimate.

He said that if up to 70 or 80 per cent of voters turn out and vote, the resultant House of Representatives and government should be considered legitimate. But if there is a large number of votes for no particular candidates, that would point to lack of legitimacy.

Abhisit said an election that would be an answer to the country must be free and fair, as well as acceptable to the people. He did not think the February 2 election would have these qualities. He accused the ruling politicians of intimidating their political rivals.

Party seniors and key figures, including former leader and ex-prime minister Chuan Leekpai were also present at the press conference held at the Democrat headquarters yesterday evening.

Democrat Nipit Intrasombat said 95 per cent of party members were opposed to contesting the election. The party will reform along with the people. Nipit, however, added that Democrats would not accept the 100-member People's Council handpicked by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). Pheu Thai leader Jarupong Ruangsuwan yesterday said the ruling party supported the February 2 election and would also push for national reform.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission yesterday expressed concern that protesters from the anti-government PDRC might attempt to disrupt the election candidacy registration starting tomorrow.

EC member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said the five election commissioners would call an urgent meeting if such an incident takes place.

Issara Somchai, a PDRC leader, told the demonstrators on stage yesterday that protesters might march to the Thai-Japanese Sports Stadium, the registration venue. He said the protesters won't be preventing candidates from registering their candidacy but merely want to apply pressure and "look at the faces" of the candidates.

Five major stages are to be set up today, including 10 minor demonstration points. All points will install LCD monitors to broadcast the address at 6pm by Suthep Thaugsuban, the PDRC secretary-general.

The five major stages will be at Democracy Monument, the Pathumwan intersection, the Ratchaprasong intersection, the Silom and Asoke intersections. The 10 minor protest spots include the Pratunam area, the Hua Lamphong intersection, the Phloenchit intersection, Thong Lor, Rajthevi. Protesters from upcountry have also begun to arrive and appeared to be prepared to stay for at least a few nights. A group of women protesters also planned to go to the house of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The EC, meanwhile, said it is 90 per cent ready to conduct the election and has chosen 10 secret spots as alternatives in case of some violence. EC secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong said additional police officers will be guarding the premises tomorrow but all things will proceed to enable candidates to register themselves. He said 45 parties had informally expressed their intention to field candidates for the snap election.

The district-based candidacy registration period is from December 23 to 27 while party-list candidacy registration period is from December 28 to January 1, 2014.

Puchong said although the five election commissioners are new, they're ready to hold the election and he expects the snap election to interest the public, who are now alert about the political situation.

Asked if a boycott by the opposition Democrat Party would have an impact on the election, Puchong said all political parties are equally important and even if the Democrat Party boycotted, it would not have an impact on the work of the EC. Puchong urged all sides, including the PDRC to send observers in order to reduce the level of electoral fraud. He added that vote-buying is on the decrease, however.

In a related development, the National Human Rights Commission yesterday urged police to desist from using force against the demonstrators and for both sides of the conflict to seek a peaceful resolution.

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