Polls to go ahead: Thailand's election commission

THAILAND - After a meeting with caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the Election Commission (EC) maintained yesterday that the registration of candidates for the February 2 general election would start on Monday, as planned.

Meanwhile, more than 70 former Democrat MPs from Bangkok and the South have decided not to contest the election.

EC member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said the registration venue - Kilawet Stadium at the Thai-Japan Youth Centre - would be well protected by police to ensure the registration process would not be interrupted. He said if the venue was besieged by protesters, a new location would be designated to register election candidates.

And if the registration of candidates could not start, the EC would consider whether to expand the period in which to do this.

Yingluck and members of her Cabinet, including caretaker Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul and caretaker Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri, met with the five new election commissioners at the EC head office yesterday afternoon. The meeting lasted more than an hour and was followed by a press conference, hosted by the commission.

The caretaker prime minister refused to talk to reporters after the meeting, saying that the EC members would explain details in their press conference.

At that conference, EC member Thirawat Thirarojwit said both sides agreed the next election was significant and that there was a need to ensure it was free and fair. He also said the caretaker PM offered to provide sufficient funding for holding the election and for security.

Thirawat said the EC simply wanted political reconciliation ahead of the ballot. "The election day should not become a day of big chaos or confusion," he said.

Somchai said the EC found that many voters were not in the mood to go to an election, mainly because of the current conflict.

Chaikasem, the caretaker justice minister, said there would be no postponement of the poll.

The EC had earlier suggested reconsidering the election date because of the growing political tension.

Meanwhile, more than 70 former Democrat Party MPs, most from Bangkok and the southern provinces, decided not to contest the next general election, a senior party source said yesterday.

They consist of more than 90 per cent of Democrat MPs from its two major strongholds, and more than 60 per cent of the party's constituency MPs.

The former MPs said they would not seek re-election even if the Democrat Party decided to contest the next election, according to the source, who said the ex-MPs made their decisions after heavy lobbying by Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee.

Suthep leads a protest movement to pressure the caretaker Cabinet to resign and postpone the election to make way for political reform.

The source said that with most former Democrat MPs planning to boycott the election, other party colleagues were likely to follow suit.

The party is due to convene a meeting today and contesting the election will be a key item on the agenda.

A survey of all Democrat branch heads found that all of them disagreed with the party contesting the election, former MP Sirichok Sopha said.

In the previous election in 2011, the Democrats won 117 seats in the House of Representatives from constituencies and another 44 from the party-list system of proportional representation. Fifty of the constituency seats were won in the South, 24 in Bangkok, 26 elsewhere in the Central region, 13 in the North, and four in the Northeast.

All opposition Democrat MPs resigned their seats on December 8 to protest against what they described as an illegitimate House of Representatives after passage of a controversial amnesty bill. The mass resignations were followed by Yingluck's decision to dissolve the House the next day.

The Democrats yesterday sent representatives to talk with most of the main political parties, including the ruling Pheu Thai and the coalition Chart Thai Pattana, to seek their support to postpone the election.

However, Pheu Thai rejected the idea, saying the election should go ahead as planned.

"Postponing the election might make it look like the country has no rule of law," Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit said, adding that the poll should go ahead and political reform be implemented afterwards.

At the Defence Council meeting yesterday, which was chaired by caretaker Defence Minister Yingluck, she asked the top brass to remain politically neutral in the run-up to the election to avoid possible criticism or allegations of bias, ministry spokesman Colonel Thanathip Sangsawang said.

All the top commanders of the armed forces were ready to support the election authorities if requested, the spokesman said.

But Yingluck is unlikely to join the Pheu Thai team when candidates register for the election, according to a source from the ruling party. She will focus instead on making trips to the provinces, particularly the North and Northeast. Pheu Thai leader Charupong Ruangsuwan will lead the party's team to register, the source said.