Thai election delay possible

THAILAND - The Election Commission's new team says it could delay the general election from the scheduled date of February 2 while political parties prepare for the judgement day. Meanwhile, the opposition Democrat Party remains undecided on whether to field candidates.

"We are willing to delay [the election] for three months, six months, one year to two years. But first things first: The political parties have to reach an agreement. The second thing is whether it [a delay] is allowed by the law. We, the EC, are the third factor," EC member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said.

He made the remarks after representatives of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protest group met with the EC yesterday and submitted an open letter calling for a postponement of the election. The representatives were Sathit Segal, Somsak Kosaisuk, Somkiat Pongpaibul and General Preecha Iamsuphan.

Somsak also read an open letter from PDRC secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban said that the demonstrators want to reform the country before an election is held.

In an earlier statment, Suthep said the national reform may take a year and a half to complete.

Somchai said he admired the good intentions of the PDRC to see national reform but there were some legal limitations for the EC.

The government can issue an executive decree to postpone an election if there is an emergency situation, he said. For example, if there were a national disaster or a war, nobody would go to the polls. But such a postponement needs approval from the EC, Somchai said.

If the election date cannot be postponed, he urged the PDRC to help campaign for a fair election without vote-buying.

However, the EC accepted the letter from the PDRC and said it would consider the demands therein. The commissioners asked the group to recognise that it was their duty by law to organise the election.

'No blocking of process'

The EC has set December 23-27 for party-list candidates to submit their applications to run in the election. Caretaker Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan said the government would not allow protesters to break the law by blocking election procedures.

Charupong, Pheu Thai Party leader, said he had been informed that protesters would be trucked from the South to Bangkok to block registration by party-list candidates.

Meanwhile, the interim government yesterday approved a Bt3.885-billion (S$152 million) budget for the election.

Chalitrat Chandrubeksa, deputy government spokesman, said that to ensure transparency, international organisations and media would be invited to observe the nationwide poll.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday declared she would not yield to the PDRC demands that she step down.

"I came to power through an election two years ago. If I have to go, let me go only through an election,'' she said.

In another development, the opposition Democrat Party had yet to resolve whether to contest the election, although it completed the appointment of a new executive committee. Abhisit Vejjajiva was reappointed as the party's leader.

The decision will be made by the former and current board, by this week.

Several former Democrat MPs said their party could not take a position on the election quickly because it was a very important issue for the party.

"If we announced that we were ready to [participate in] the election, we would lose credibility with many people at the rally sites. Yet it would have a bad effect on the people's movement," one of the sources said.

Former Democrat MP Pichase Panvichatikul said it was a tough decision given the currently volatile political situation.

"In principle, the party should compete in the election, but [in terms of the impacts from doing so], the party should boycott it, because [taking part] would only alienate political allies.

After yesterday's Cabinet meeting, Yingluck embarked on a trip to the Northeast, starting with Buri Ram. The stated purpose of the visit is to inspect government work.

Last week, Yingluck spent five days in the Northern region, another Pheu Thai vote base.

Although the schedule has been set for her visit to nine provinces - Buri Ram, Surin, Si Sa Ket, Yasothon, Roi Et, Maha Sarakham, Kalasin, Udon Thani, Nong Khai and Bueng Kan - between now and Sunday, the details of where she would go were kept secret, as was the case with last week's tour.

Reasons to postpone

  • A poll can be delayed by 30 days via royal decree if there is civil unrest, floods, fire or other eventualities (according to Article 78 of the 2007 Constitution's organic law on elections);
  • If the ballot papers are damaged or lost (according to Article 85 of the 2007 Constitution's organic law on elections);
  • If only one candidate is elected in a constituency and receives less than 20 per cent of the total vote (according to Article 88 of the 2007 Constitution's organic law on elections);
  • A constituency has no MP candidates;
  • The number of MPs is less than 95 per cent of 500 - the compulsory figure that is needed for the House of Representatives to convene (according to Article 93 of the Constitution).