Thai government to proceed with troubled election

AFP-JIJI

Thailand’s government vowed Tuesday to push ahead with controversial elections this weekend despite threats by opposition protesters to disrupt the polls in an attempt to stop the ruling party returning to power.

The announcement came after talks between Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and election officials who urged a delay following street violence in which at least 10 people were killed and hundreds injured in grenade attacks, drive-by shootings and other clashes.

In the latest incident, shots were fired Tuesday near the Bangkok army base where Yingluck was holding meetings, as hundreds of protesters massed outside.

Emergency services said two people were injured, but the exact circumstances were not immediately clear.

The Thai capital has been shaken by nearly three months of mass street demonstrations, demanding Yingluck’s elected government step down to make way for an unelected “people’s council” that would oversee reforms aimed at curbing the dominance of her billionaire family.

The Election Commission proposed during Tuesday’s talks to postpone the election for 120 days, but after discussions it agreed with the government to press ahead with the Sunday vote, deputy government spokesman Chalitrat Chantarubeksa told reporters.

The main opposition Democrat Party is boycotting Sunday’s election, saying reforms are needed to ensure the vote is truly democratic and to prevent abuse of power by the next government.

Advance voting over the weekend was marred by widespread disruption by opposition protesters who besieged polling stations and stopped hundreds of thousands from casting ballots.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has threatened to “close every route” to polling stations again for the main election, raising fears of further violence.

An anti-government rally leader was shot dead last Sunday while giving a speech from the back of a pickup truck in a Bangkok suburb during the campaign by demonstrators to block advance voting.

In another apparently politically related killing, the body of a man wearing a wristband popular among protesters was found Tuesday near a rally site with several bullet wounds, according to police, although the circumstances of his death were unclear.

“He could be a protester or someone who infiltrated the demonstrators,” said police Col. Charoen Srisasalak.

Yingluck’s meeting with the election authorities came after the Constitutional Court last Friday ruled that the polls could legally be pushed back because of the civil strife.

The government notes that under the constitution an election should normally be held no more than 60 days after the dissolution of parliament, which happened in early December.

The opposition argues that an election without reforms will not resolve the long-running political conflict.

The kingdom has been bitterly divided since Yingluck’s older brother, then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was overthrown by royalist generals in a coup more than seven years ago.

Critics accuse the billionaire tycoon-turned-politician of controlling his sister’s government from Dubai, where he lives to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.

The protesters have staged a self-styled “shutdown” of Bangkok since Jan. 13, occupying several main intersections, although attendance has gradually dwindled and disruption has been limited.

The government has declared a 60-day state of emergency in the capital and surrounding areas, giving authorities the power to ban public gatherings of more than five people, although they have not yet done so and demonstrators have vowed to defy the decree.

  • Manfred Liebig

    THAILAND’S POLITICAL CRISIS

    Blockading Bangkok amounts to large-scale violence. Protesters under the control of Suthep Thaugsuban claim they are non-violent, because they pledge to refrain from physically harming people.

    They conveniently ignore other forms of violence they commit, which have far-reaching repercussions not only for Bangkok people, but for the entire country, including the economy.

    This is violence: Electricity and water supplies being cut, public buildings and facilities being damaged, invaded and occupied. Public services are curtailed or not available. People are prevented from using public roads, government officials prevented from going to work, and children from going to school. Insults and threats are verbal violence.

    The shutdown is not about democracy. Democracy cannot be imposed by force; it is not a set of rules and regulations. Democracy emerges and grows with the voluntary participation of the people. Boycotting elections, preventing people from going to the polls is undemocratic and violent behaviour. Without tolerance and compromise an emerging democracy cannot survive. It cannot be invented by a self-appointed committee under the control of an autocratic leader.

    Manfred Liebig
    Chiang Mai, Thailand

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ Andrew Sheldon

    The protesters have my support. Critics will condemn them as thugs or ‘undemocratic’ however they ignore the fact that there is nothing democratic or ‘participatory’, or rational about representative democracy, practised in any country. Its an extortion racket that needs to change. People’s lives and potential is being maligned by this system, whether you are part of a minority or majority; this system will alienate you from some legitimate value, because we are ultimately all minorities on some value. The equality of that renunciation of self is not a virtue; its a compromise on one’s value, that has ultimately led to cynicism and tragic disdain for political discourse. Tinkering with the system will not change it; which is why this peaceful strategy is all the more impressive.

    • Lee Vann

      What form of government would you propose, which would meet the needs of the people while protecting their liberties, and do a better job than democracy?

      So far in human history we have tried many forms of government, yet representative democracy is the one that has been shown to work the best. So if you have a better new type of government, please provide details.

      As for the Thugs posing as peaceful protesters, they are just angry that they can not win elections. They had the deck stacked in their favor last time and still managed to fail. I have no sympathy for them. And, will be glad when their leadership is prosecuted for their crimes in 2010.