Thai govt 'has no power to postpone polls'

BANGKOK- The path to Thailand's snap polls looks increasingly rocky after its election commission again suggested postponing the Feb 2 date and the caretaker government countered that it had no power to do so.

Caretaker deputy prime ministers Phongthep Thepkanjana and Surapong Tovichakchaikul yesterday slammed the election commission.

"We have checked the Constitution," Mr Phongthep told reporters. "The EC itself understands that we cannot postpone the election because it is not within our power. The EC itself cannot postpone the election either."

Mr Surapong accused the commission of misleading people by repeatedly asking the caretaker government to delay the polls. It was the EC's responsibility, said Mr Phongthep, to hold them to fill vacant constituencies within 30 days of the Feb 2 election.

Preparations for the polls have been hampered by political brawls ever since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the House of Representatives on Dec 9 amid mounting street protests aimed at toppling her administration.

As her Puea Thai party is widely expected to be returned to power, protesters have tried to block registration for the polls, creating enough vacant seats to impede the ability of the Lower House to open a new session after Feb 2.

Over the past week, rulings by the Constitutional Court and National Anti-Corruption Commission have swung against the Puea Thai, which could make it difficult for the party to form a new government even if it emerges victorious on Feb 2. Both caretaker ministers questioned the impartiality of these independent institutions.

On Monday, the more than two-month-long movement will again attempt to oust her by taking over key intersections in the capital and turning off the power and water supply of government buildings and the homes of caretaker Cabinet members.

The turmoil in ASEAN's second-largest economy has hurt tourism, dampened its economic outlook and hit its stock market. The United States Embassy yesterday advised its nationals to stock up on two weeks' worth of food, water and medicine.

Mr Surapong played down fears, saying: "People will live their normal lives. Don't be afraid."

Talk of a military coup has also intensified, especially after army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, when asked about the chances of a coup, said: "It depends on the situation."

But Mr Phongthep dismissed such talk, calling it a "slip of the tongue".

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