Acting PM 'can submit poll decree'

THAILAND - An acting prime minister is empowered by law to submit a Royal Decree for royal endorsement, caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana, who is a legal expert, said yesterday.

Legal disputes emerged yesterday after appointed Senator Kamnoon Sidhisamarn posted on Facebook that acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan had no power to set an election date because he was not a caretaker PM, and hence not qualified to submit a Royal Decree for an election.

Phongthep disagreed. "An acting prime minister can work like a PM and is qualified to submit a Royal Decree," he said.

"As I am in this position [deputy PM], I have worked in response to many issues related to royal endorsements before, for example, getting one for a state university rector. It was also done by previous governments."

However, even if Niwattumrong is legally able to submit a decree for the election, it appears that the next balloting may not be feasible when the government wants it. The originally agreed date was July 20.

The Election Commission is set to discuss the Royal Decree on the election date with the government next Wednesday.

EC secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong explained that the EC was unable to meet the government today as it initially wanted.

If a resolution is made next week, then an election will be held, although the date now is uncertain. Puchong said the EC was also in a hurry to set the election date and needed to meet each group.

However, after the Office of the Auditor-General asked the government to take responsibility for the Bt3.8 billion spent on the February 2 election, the EC decided that it needed to be more careful with its plans.

Meanwhile Jatuporn Promphan, chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, and red-shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn announced yesterday that they would not contest the next election.

They explained that they would focus on their fight for democracy with the rest of the red shirts, instead of fighting for a seat ing the House of Representatives.

Separately, the pro-government People's Radio Media for Democracy Group, led by its spokesman Sornrak Malaithong, rallied in Lak Si to demand that the anti-government protesters led by monk Phra Buddha Issara move out from Chaeng Wattana Road.

Sornrak said the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) needed to move out of the rally site before schools reopen on Monday.

The group was blocked by police from advancing toward the PDRC rally site for a planned confrontation.

Pol Colonel Chusak Techarak-phong, deputy chief of city police Region 2, mediated later, and spoke to leaders of both sides.

In another development, PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban led a march down Sukhumvit Road, starting at Onnut Skytrain Station to woo support for its next "final battle" today.

Meanwhile, farmers from Ayutthaya province rallied at Democrat headquarters demanding that the party participate in the next election.

They said there were suffering as there was nobody in charge to approve funding for the rice-pledging scheme.