BANGKOK – Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled Friday that a Feb. 2 election opposed by anti-government protesters can legally be delayed. There was no immediate word on whether the vote would be postponed.
The head of the Election Commission has argued the poll should be delayed because of unrest that has shaken the country since protesters took to the streets late last year. But Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has said the date, fixed by royal decree, was unchangeable.
In a unanimous ruling, the court said the power to delay the ballot rests mutually with Yingluck and the head of the Election Commission.
Yingluck called the election after dissolving the lower house of parliament in December in a bid to ease the country’s political crisis. Unrest since November has left at least nine people dead and more than 550 injured.
The crisis is expected to drag on regardless of whether an agreement is reached on postponement.
That is partly because protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is refusing to negotiate. He is calling for the installation of a nonelected council of “good people” to govern and implement political reforms before any ballot is held.
Even if the vote goes ahead, parliament is unlikely to achieve the quorum it requires to convene because protesters have blocked candidate registration in several provinces. That means a caretaker government would remain in place until at least some of those provinces hold elections.
Thailand has struggled with political tension off and on since Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was deposed in a 2006 army coup.
Tensions were rekindled late last year after a disastrous attempt by Yingluck’s party to ram through a controversial amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return from self-imposed exile. He was sentenced in absentia in 2008 to prison for corruption. Critics allege he uses his sister as a puppet and runs the country from abroad, charges they both deny.