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Suthep turns down PM's call for talks on poll delay

Yingluck asks Phongthep to set up meet involving all sides; EC wary of the idea

The caretaker government, having repeatedly ignored calls for postponement of the February 2 election, yesterday softened its stance as pressure for a delay in holding the poll increased.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has assigned caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana to hold meetings with all sides regarding the Election Commission's proposal for the election to be postponed, PM’s secretary general Suranand Vejjajiva said yesterday.

He said Yingluck had consulted Phongthep, a legal expert, and some other Cabinet members on the EC's proposal, which she felt was still unclear. She has assigned Phongthep to hold discussions with all the sides concerned.

Phongthep will invite representatives of five groups - the EC, political parties, people who want the election to go ahead, people who are against the February 2 election, and the Cabinet, according to Suranand. The discussion would be held tomorrow morning at a place to be confirmed later, he added.

Suranand said the government hoped the five EC commissioners, political party representatives - including Democrat leaders - as well as representatives of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), would also attend the meeting.

However, PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban yesterday ruled out his attendance at any talks on a possible postponement of the election. He insisted his group would not engage in any such talks with the government until the protesters had "won the fight". He repeatedly said earlier that his group wanted nothing less than the mass resignation of the caretaker Cabinet, including Yingluck.

Protest leader Suriyasai Katasila said yesterday in a Twitter message that the PDRC was still firm in its demand that Yingluck step down to pave the way for national reform. "Election postponement is not our main goal," he tweeted.

Pichit Chuenban, a legal expert for the ruling Pheu Thai Party, said yesterday that legally speaking the election could not be postponed. However, the party wanted to hear views from those who were pushing for election postponement.

EC member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn expressed dissatisfaction yesterday at the government move to hold a multiparty meeting without first responding to the EC's written call for postponement. "This is not the right thing for the government to do," he said, adding that the prime minister should have a meeting urgently with the EC chairman to discuss any election postponement proposal.

He said if there was no such discussion between the PM and the EC chairman, it was likely the EC would not join the multiparty meeting to be held by the government.

Meanwhile, caretaker Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who is also in charge of the government's Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order, yesterday suggested the government bring the case to the Constitutional Court to rule on whether the February 2 election could be delayed. He said he believed the Constitution does not empower the government to postpone an election.

In a related development, the EC is setting up a temporary office in Chon Buri in preparation for the next election, according to a source in the agency.

The move came after protesters gathered outside the Government Complex on Chaeng Wattana Road, which houses the EC head office.

Twenty-two Thai embassies and consulate offices in 21 countries around the world yesterday held advance voting for Thai expatriates, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said.

The Election Commission designated 92 Thai missions in 67 countries to hold the election outside the Kingdom as 143,800 eligible voters registered to cast their ballot, he said. More than one million Thai citizens live abroad, according to Sek.


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