Thai election body suggests poll postponement

Thai election body suggests poll postponement

BANGKOK - Thailand's Election Commission on Thursday warned of potential unrest at upcoming polls, suggesting a postponement as thousands of anti-government protesters marched through the capital.

The independent body called for talks between the administration of embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and demonstrators, who have vowed to disrupt the February 2 vote.

Yingluck called the snap election last week to try to defuse a weeks-long political crisis, which has seen opposition protesters massing on the streets of Bangkok.

But the protesters say it would only usher in another government backed by controversial former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother.

They accuse the ousted leader of controlling her behind the scenes and call for the democratic system to be suspended in favour of a reforming "people's council".

"The EC expects the election on February 2 will cause unrest, so holding the poll on that date is not appropriate," said EC commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, adding that officials would organise the vote if parties "insist" on going ahead.

Thousands of people marched through the capital on Thursday in a noisy procession of whistle-blowing, flag-waving protesters.

One faction briefly gathered outside the United States embassy, facing off against lines of riot police and voicing anger at Washington's support for the democratic process.

"When you come to live here, you have to learn our traditions and respect Thailand," said one protest leader, Nititorn Lamleu, from a makeshift stage on the back of a truck.

"If you use Thai soil to trade with Yingluck's government... I will campaign for Thais across the country to oust you and your embassy from Thailand," he added, in comments apparently aimed at US ambassador Kristie Kenney.

Rally leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former MP and deputy premier under a government led by the Democrat party which is now in opposition, aims to intensify the marches in the run-up to a major protest on Sunday.

The ruling Puea Thai Party is widely expected to win the poll due to Thaksin's electoral clout in the north and northeast, and criticised the EC postponement proposal.

"The EC has a duty to organise elections. Why shift responsibility to others? This is not the right signal to send because it could fuel conspiracy theories," party leader Jarupong Ruangsuwan told AFP.

Thailand has seen 18 actual or attempted coups since 1932, while the country's judiciary and institutions have also made interventions that helped to oust elected governments.

The protests have been backed by the Democrats, who have not won an election for two decades and are currently mulling whether or not to boycott the February poll.

Demonstrators represent a loose alliance of anti-Thaksin groups, including the Bangkok middle classes, the elite, southerners and royalists.

They view the former billionaire tycoon, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, as corrupt and accuse him of buying the popularity which has seen him and his allies win every election for over a decade.

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