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February 2 Election

EC calls for deferment of poll

Commissioner Somchai suggests delay of 4-6 months; Govt says it has no authority to put off Feb 2 election

YESTERDAY'S developments involving the Election Commission (EC) and the anti-graft agency pointed to an even rockier road ahead for the already embattled government.

The EC yesterday asked the government to postpone the February 2 election following violent clashes between police and protesters that left a police officer dead and 96 people injured, including protesters and policemen.

However, the Pheu Thai Party rejected the idea of postponement, saying the government has no authority to put off the election.

At least three people - two policemen and one protester - suffered gunshot wounds during the clashes. But it remained unclear who had fired the shots at them.

Meanwhile, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) yesterday found grounds to pursue charges against former Parliament president and House ex-speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont and deputy Parliament president Nikom Wairatpanit, who is also Senate speaker, in connection with the parliamentary deliberation of a constitutional amendment bill to change the Senate composition.

The agency said it would decide on January 7 whether to charge 381 ex-MPs and senators who backed charter amendment. These included caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and many government MPs.

Responding to Pheu Thai's rejection of the proposed postponement, EC member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said the election commissioners would attempt to persuade the government on the matter.

He also dismissed a Pheu Thai remark that the EC was siding with the protesters. "The five election commissioners are doing whatever we can to help maintain peace in the country. We have concerns."

Somchai said the election should be postponed for four to six months to a time when "society is better prepared". He said the parties involved should engage in dialogue and agree on what should be done after the election.

At an EC press conference earlier yesterday, Somchai said if the government opts to go ahead with the February 2 election, some election commissioners might exercise their "personal right to make a decision to help resolve the situation". This was interpreted as the likelihood of them resigning from their posts.

When asked if his remark meant he would resign, Somchai did not deny it. "We have both right and duty. At a certain point in time, we will decide what to do," he replied.

The current team of five election commissioners assumed office only on December 13.

The Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order yesterday imposed a ban on people with a tendency to stage violence or provocative acts in an area around the Bangkok Youth Centre Stadium. The ban took effect from yesterday evening. The area covers an area within the 50-metre radius from the centre. Therefore, nearby roads such as Mit Maitree and Pracha Songkroh will also be affected.

Blue Sky Channel yesterday played a video clip of an incident at 4.30pm in which a group of policemen struck the windshield of a car parked near the stadium. The vehicle carried first-aid kits for the protesters.

A group of protesters yesterday evening blocked a section of Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road, a main artery of Bangkok, for almost two hours before dispersing.

The clashes yesterday broke out in the morning when the protesters attempted to force their way into the Thai-Japanese Youth Centre Stadium, where representatives from 30 political parties were gathering for lot drawing to determine the parties' election candidacy numbers. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters, who responded by hurling bricks and tear-gas canisters at them.

Afters hours of clashes, the EC held a news conference to recommend that the election be delayed indefinitely.

Pheu Thai, however, called on the EC to go ahead with the election. Bhokin Balakula, a legal expert from the party, said the government has no legal authority to postpone the election.

A postponement would only worsen the conflict, instead of ending it, he said. "We call on the people to decide at the ballot box."

Army commander-in-chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha is expected to make a statement on the current political situation today, when he chairs a meeting of Army unit commanders, according to an Army source.

EC chairman Supachai Somcharoen yesterday was present at the press conference along with the four other election commissioners. He read a statement calling on the government to postpone the election until all the parties involved could settle their differences.

Commission member Prawit Rattanapien said, "We cannot organise free and fair elections under the Constitution in the current circumstances."

The election commissioners were taken out of the besieged stadium in a police helicopter.

Yesterday's clash between protesters and police left at least 32 protesters injured, including a guard of the protesters who was shot in the head, according to Dr Suphan Srithamma, director-general of the Public Health Ministry's Department of Health Service Support. He added that the guard was seriously injured with a bullet wound. He said most of the injuries were caused by rubber bullets and tear gas fired by the crowd-control police.

Police Senior Sgt-Major Narong Pitisit, a traffic policeman from Bangkok's Talat Phlu Police Station, was shot dead in yesterday's clash, deputy Police Hospital spokesperson Pol Lt-Colonel Sirikul Srisa-nga said. He was shot in his chest and succumbed to the injury during an operation at the hospital. A total of 28 policemen were taken to hospital, mostly due to bruises. Ten of them were admitted for treatment and the others were discharged.

Yingluck, speaking in Chiang Mai during her trip yesterday, vowed to do her best to deal with the situation. When asked if she felt heavy-hearted, the caretaker PM, with tears brimming in her eyes, likened the current situation to a rocky road. "We have to walk on it because it's the only road available. It's better than walking in the jungle that is a shortcut," she said.

In a related development, stocks declined sharply yesterday as a result of the ongoing political uncertainty. The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) index dropped 23.99 points, or 1.8 per cent, to close at 1,308.46 with trade volume of Bt26.18 billion.


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