Thai Acting PM wants to proceed with July 20 polls

Thai Acting PM wants to proceed with July 20 polls
Illegal to stop election. "We are legally here. Nobody is against reforms, but you can’t stop an election. It is against the law." – Acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan

THAILAND - Unfazed by challenges to his caretaker government's legitimacy, new Acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan said yesterday he would press the Election Commission (EC) to go ahead with elections scheduled for July 20.

Separately, the ruling Puea Thai party said in a statement that the EC should not listen to the views of the "dictatorial" People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which has been spearheading protests to drive it out of office. If elections do not take place, the EC will have to answer to "the people", it added.

Mr Niwatthamrong, appointed last Wednesday, said the government would meet the EC tomorrow and he hoped voting would take place on July 20 as proposed. There could be a slight delay at worst, he added.

The EC is known to be reluctant to schedule the polls, citing the fraught political environment. It is asking the Acting Premier to clarify if he has the legal authority to ask for an election.

The Feb 2 election was sabotaged by PDRC, which insists reforms must come before a new election. That election was later annulled. Also yesterday, the newly convened Senate, under a Speaker known to be anti-Puea Thai, began an "informal" session to discuss the option of nominating a new premier. Such a move would pull the rug from under the Puea Thai government and almost certainly trigger a backlash from supporters.

The government maintains such an action would be unconstitutional. "We are legally here," the Acting Prime Minister told reporters. "Nobody is against reforms, but you can't stop an election. It is against the law."

Pro-government "red shirts" remain massed at a rally site on the western edge of Bangkok to "send a signal" that they would not tolerate the appointment of a new premier.

Equally unfazed was PDRC supremo Suthep Thaugsuban. The government's Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order has threatened to arrest him and 13 other PDRC leaders.

He went to Parliament to speak to senators last evening - the deadline he had set for them to nominate a new premier.

But the constitutionality of such a move is in question, given that an elected government remains in power, albeit in a caretaker capacity with fewer powers. Only 86 out of 150 senators attended the discussion.

Mr Suthep had also challenged the presidents of the country's top courts to recommend a new prime minister.

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