BANGKOK - Thailand has moved a step closer to holding elections on February 2 with the first day of registration of constituency candidates ending without clashes despite the process being suspended in |seven provinces in the South, due to pressure from anti-government protesters.
At the end of yesterday, the first of five days of candidate registration, which ends on January 1, Election Commission (EC) secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong said the situation was smooth in 70 provinces. On the first day, 367 candidates registered nationwide. In Bangkok, which has 33 constituencies, 67 candidates were registered, including 33 from Pheu Thai Party.
"Of the 77 provinces, there were only problems in seven provinces in the South. Officials are bound by law to open for registrations," he said. "There's been no clashes, just symbolic protests."
There are 375 constituencies nationwide and 32 or 8.5 per cent are located in the seven provinces that reported problems in the South - namely Phuket, Krabi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Songkhla, Trang, Phatthalung and Chumphon.
Puchong said if the registration of candidates in the seven provinces could not resume in the next four days, the Cabinet would have to decide what should be done if elections cannot be held in those constituencies.
In Surat Thani, it was reported that one candidate showed up but could not get to the registration venue.
Meanwhile, in Nakhon Si Thammarat, the landlord abruptly decided not to allow the use of his property as the registration venue.
Saksarit Sriprasart, a protest leader in Trang, said they would camp out at the registration venue until New Year's Day and if anybody showed up to register, he would reveal the names of their family members and denounce them as supporters of the "Thaksin regime".
Meanwhile, amid heavy protests, election officials in Chumphon and Songkhla resigned, while power and water was cut to the registration venue in Chumphon. A Pheu Thai member also reportedly failed to get to the venue.
In the four days to December 27, 53 of the country's 72 political parties registered a total of 1,245 party-listed candidates. The first day of registration of constituency-based MPs saw 367 candidates nationwide - 62 were in the North, 165 in the Central region, 129 in the Northeast and 11 in the South (one each from Prachuap Khiri Khan and Phang Nga, two from Ranong, three from Pattani and four from Satun).
Election Commission member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said earlier yesterday that the resignation of officials would not disrupt the registration of candidates, as provinces had the power to appoint replacements.
He said venues can be changed, and if things get worse, then registrations could be suspended.
The situation on the first day was mixed, with some provinces witnessing the registration of candidates in all constituencies, while in some provinces no candidates showed up.
Puchong said candidates in all 10 constituencies of Chiang Mai were able to register, while in the Northeast, Nong Khai also witnessed the registration of candidates in all constituencies.
In Pattani, one of three provinces in the violence-hit deep South, where four MPs can be elected, the registration process went smoothly with three candidates enrolling for the poll.
In Suphan Buri, Chart Thai Pattana and Pheu Thai candidates registered for all constituencies. Led by Banharn Silapa-archa, the Chart Thai Pattana candidates chose to return home after registering instead of meeting voters, as is the norm.
Caretaker PM's Office Minister Varathep Ratanakorn said he was confident that the registration would be completed in all provinces in the next four days and that the elections would be held undisrupted on February 2. "Most people support the elections, while 53 political parties have joined the party-list registrations. Election officials at the provinces in question should rush to register as they can then ask for direct help from the police and Army."
Democrat Ong-art Klampaiboon reiterated yesterday that the government should follow the EC's suggestion to get the election postponed. His party is boycotting the election.
When asked if blocking registration in the South was any indication, he said it meant that the February 2 election would not take place in a normal manner. He said he could not see how the situation would escalate, but things would not have gone this way if the government followed the EC's recommendations.