BANGKOK – Thailand’s government and election authorities agreed Wednesday to hold a new general election on July 20 in an attempt to end the country’s political stalemate. But the protesters who disrupted the vote earlier this year paid little heed to the decision, insisting they would seize power soon.
The Election Commission announced the July date after meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and other members of her Cabinet. The commission will meet May 6 to draft an election decree for the government to submit to King Bhumibol Adulyadej for his pro forma endorsement.
The election held on Feb. 2 was nullified by the Constitutional Court on March 21 because it failed to meet legal requirements after the protesters disrupted the registration process and voting.
The protesters say they want Yingluck to step down to allow an interim nonelected government to implement anti-corruption reforms and remove her family’s influence from politics. Their group, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, has insisted it will not accept new elections before reforms are instituted.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said in a speech Wednesday night that the group is launching “the last phase” of its battle and would take power on May 14 to set up a “people’s government.” He has made similar vows over the past few months, claiming that Yingluck’s government lacks legitimacy — even though her party held a majority of House seats before Parliament was dissolved.
“Let me emphasize and underline repeatedly that we, the great masses of the people, will move forward in reforming Thailand before election. No other proposals should be suggested,” he said.
Before Wednesday’s election announcement, Yingluck said on her Facebook page: “I truly hope the country will be set free from the conflict and that every side can talk peacefully, as well as can hold an election under a constitutional framework, in order to have a government that is truly wanted by the people soon.”
Reflecting uncertainty about the prospects for new polls, Election Commission Secretary-General Puchong Nutrawong said the government agreed that if unforeseeable circumstances arise, it will issue another decree to amend the election date.
Thailand has been plagued by political strife since a 2006 military coup ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, whom demonstrators accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the king. More than 20 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in political violence over the past six months.
This past week has seen new efforts to break the deadlock, with the head of the opposition Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva, holding high-profile meetings with the election commissioner, military leaders, civil servants and politicians to propose ideas he said could defuse the crisis, although he has not revealed what they are. The Democrats have close links to the protest movement.
The caretaker government led by Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party has run the country with limited powers since the lower house was dissolved in December and early elections called.
The February polls were obstructed mainly in Bangkok and southern provinces, with protesters stopping candidates from registering, preventing ballots from reaching polling stations and keeping citizens from casting their votes. The protesters have also battled with police and occupied government offices.
The Constitutional Court ruled the election invalid, saying the law mandates that elections must be carried out nationwide on the same day. The polls’ legitimacy was further eroded by a boycott by the Democrats.
Even with new polls scheduled, there is a strong possibility that Yingluck may not be able to keep her prime minister’s post because she faces several court cases that could force her out.
Yingluck’s opponents hope that in such a situation, a failure to form a new government will spark a legal crisis, allowing them to invoke vague clauses in the constitution and have an unelected prime minister installed.
But there also are fears that Yingluck’s supporters would not peacefully accept such a situation, since they see courts and independent state agencies as being biased against her family’s political machine.