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Reconsider poll date: EC

Election Commission calls for reconciliation as it worries about conflict before and after poll

The Election Commission yesterday appealed for cooling-off period out of fears that the wrangling over when the snap election should be held could lead to an escalation in unrest and a dispute over the poll results.

"The Election Commission views that the best way for improving the current situation is for all sides to reconcile and reduce their demands to a level that can be acceptable to all. There is no loser or winner, but it will be a way out for Thailand," the five new commissioners said in a statement yesterday.

They also urged a reconsideration of the February 2 election date, saying it should not be allowed to "limit the possibility for Thais to reach reconciliation".

Somchai Srisuthiyakorn told the EC's press conference that the agency found that in the current situation, it would be difficult to hold a trouble-free election.

"It has been widely agreed that there could be a disturbance because this is not a normal situation," he said.

The remark came as the People's Democratic Reform Committee, which has been protesting against the caretaker government for more than six weeks and is demanding postponement of the election until political reform is completed, led another march in Bangkok that drew several thousands of supporters.

Somchai suggested that mediators facilitate negotiations between the government and the PDRC on whether the February 2 election should go ahead.

If there are no talks and the February 2 date is confirmed, the EC would do its best to hold the election, he said.

"But we expect considerable problems during the election," he said.

According to the law, the election can be rescheduled, he said.

"If the two sides agree that the election does not have to be held on February 2, the legal officials of the government must find a way to postpone it and the EC will be ready to organise it accordingly," he added.

Suthep Thaugsuban, secretary-general of the PDRC, reiterated that balloting without reforming the country first would allow the return of the " Thaksin regime," which he said has corrupted Thai politics for years.

Although the EC said postponement of the election was possible, delaying it for a few months was insufficient for the reform process, he said.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she would still stick to the original election date but the law should be taken into consideration if postponement is inevitable.

Ruling Pheu Thai Party leader Charupong Ruangsuwan said he had received Yingluck's documents for party-list MP candidacy and is still waiting for her photograph.

He said Yingluck would make an appearance to offer moral support when her party submits its party-list MP applications on Monday.

He said he had not heard reports that Yaowapa Wongsawat, a former MP for Chiang Mai and Yingluck's sister, would not run in the February 2 general election and that Panthongtae Shinawatra, Yingluck's nephew, would take her place.

If the PDRC tried to block Pheu Thai's party-list MP filing on Monday, he would invite the foreign media to tell the world how the anti-government protesters do not respect the royal election decree and democracy by obstructing the election process.

The caretaker prime minister will return to Bangkok on an Army plane from her inspection tour of the Northeast this morning to chair a meeting of the Defence Council at the Army Club at 9.30am and to tape her New Year's greeting to Thais, a Government House source said.

Afterwards she would fly back to the Northeast and resume her trip, the source said.

Yingluck's eyes brimmed with tears as her supporters in the northeastern province of Roi Et chanted to boost her spirits in a traditional welcoming ceremony known as Bai Sri Su Kwuan.

About 20,000 government supporters gathered at Bung Planchai, where Yingluck presided at the opening of a traditional handicrafts fair. Some 100 anti-government protesters also turned up to blow whistles in a symbolic gesture of opposition under a heavy security guard of 1,200 officials.

After the chief Brahmin conducted a rite to boost her kwuan (spirits), which are believed to protect and take care of her, thousands of people chanted three times to give Yingluck moral support. The PM's eyes welled up after she heard the cheers.

The Thai Journalists Association, Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand also issued a statement expressing concern about the upcoming election.

Under these circumstances, the election might not lead the country out of conflict but might drive a deeper divide in society. A process was needed to build mutual understanding and ensure the rules were accepted by all sides, the statement said.

All sides must join to push for reform in all respects to uproot the underlying causes of the conflicts. It is important to begin the process as soon as possible. Reform of some areas such as anti-corruption must start right away, the statement said.

The caretaker government must keep the peace in the country by using the laws straightforwardly and must not abuse its power. It must not do anything directly or indirectly that could possibly cause losses or violence, the media statement said, adding that the PDRC protesters must also demonstrate peacefully without resorting to violence.

Besides using the masses to pressure the government, the PDRC should consider dialoguing as another way to seek solutions.


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