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Poll fate in balance

Govt-EC meeting delayed by a day; Election body intends to propose three options in Royal Decree

THE FATE of the election planned for July 20 hung in the balance as the government and the Election Commission haggled yesterday over issues such as the venue for their meeting, the legal status of the government, and the wording of the Royal Decree authorising the poll.

The meeting was postponed at the last minute from yesterday to today. EC member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said the government had asked for a change of venue from the EC headquarters in the Government Complex to the Royal Thai Air Force Academy at short notice.

The meeting was scheduled for 2pm yesterday but the government sought the change in venue at 11.30am, citing security reasons due to the presence of anti-government protesters there. The new location was only a 20-minute drive away, but Somchai said the officials could not arrange the meeting yesterday.

The meeting has been rescheduled for today at 10am at the Royal Thai Air Force Academy.

The government and the EC have already agreed on July 20 as the election date, but the commission had second thoughts after Yingluck Shinawatra was dismissed as prime minister by the Constitutional Court last week. Holding the election as scheduled will be possible only if the EC and the government make quick decisions and manage to get the Royal Decree by May 22. If the two fail to find common ground at today's meeting, the July 20 election date is unlikely, an observer said.

Somchai had earlier questioned whether acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan had the authority to send a Royal Decree for the election.

Niwattumrong insisted yesterday that he had full authority to function as the acting prime minister and his government would remain in the power until Thailand gets a new government after a democratic election.

Other issues concerning the election will be discussed with the EC today, he told a press briefing.

Another concern, according to Somchai, is the legal text of the decree. The EC wants it to accommodate options for postponing the election if it cannot be held on schedule because of disruption by protesters. The previous election on February 2 was nullified by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the ballots were not cast on the same day in the entire country because of such disruptions.

Somchai said he would today propose to the government that it include three options in the decree: the election might need to be delayed for a week; two weeks; or one month in different scenarios. "I cannot say what could happen to obstruct the election but if it really happens, the EC must have the authority under the election law to make the decision," he said.

The government is pushing the election even as protesters from the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and its allies in the Senate as well as some independent organisations are now seeking ways to legitimise the installation of an unelected prime minister.

Niwattumrong said the Constitution's Articles 171 and 172 allowed only an elected member of the House of Representatives to be the prime minister, and any other way was unconstitutional.

PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban maintained his demand that acting Senate Speaker Surachai Liengboon-lertchai nominate a person as prime minister and seek royal endorsement. However, Surachai said he would work independently and not rely on any particular group.

Senators remain divided into two camps; one wants to invoke Article 7 of the Constitution to have an unelected prime minister before the election, while the other group wants to explore other options, according to Senator Pichet Sunthornpipit.

Surachai called informal meetings of the Senate on Monday and Tuesday to explore ideas to lead the country out of the political crisis. He hosted another meeting yesterday with representatives of 12 organisations, including the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Supreme Court, the Administrative Court, the Election Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, the Board of Trade, the Federation of Thai Industries and the Thai Bankers' Association for brainstorming.

Surachai proposed to meet with government representatives tomorrow.

Niwattumrong said he was ready to meet with the Senate to discuss a solution to the political crisis but it should be held in a place free from protesters.


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