Interim Thai PM to meet election body as coup fears mount

Interim Thai PM to meet election body as coup fears mount

BANGKOK – Thailand’s interim prime minister will meet the Election Commission on Wednesday, in the hope of fixing a date for polls that the government sees as the best way out of the country’s protracted crisis but its opponents will probably reject.

Six months of anti-government protests have brought sporadic violence to the streets of Bangkok, threatened to tip the economy into recession and even raised fears of civil war.

The crisis is the latest phase in nearly 10 years of hostility between the royalist establishment and Thaksin Shinawatra, a former telecommunications billionaire who won huge support among the rural and urban poor but angered the Bangkok-based elite and was deposed by the military in a 2006 coup.

Last week, the Constitutional Court threw Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s younger sister, and nine of her cabinet ministers out of office for abuse of power.

But the remaining ministers selected a new premier and the caretaker government is hoping for a July 20 election that Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party would probably win, given the enduring popularity of her brother.

The Election Commission, which has been accused of sympathising with the protest movement, said it was unsure whether polls could be held on July 20, as it had earlier tentatively agreed with Yingluck.

It is also unclear whether acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan has the authority to issue a decree for a new election date. “We may have to postpone the July election because the political situation has not stabilised yet and we are running out of time to organise it,” Phuchong Nutawong, the commission’s secretary general, told Reuters. “Today, we’ll discuss whether acting premier Niwatthamrong can issue a decree to be endorsed by the king.”

Niwatthamrong told foreign media on Monday the election date might have to be pushed back.

But for the government, an election is the only way forward.

Its opponents, on the other hand, are almost bound to boycott and disrupt it, as they did with an election in February and that led to the vote being declared void.

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