Thailand court voids protest-hit polls, new vote looms

Thailand court voids protest-hit polls, new vote looms
Above: Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

BANGKOK - Thailand's general election held last month was declared invalid Friday after disruption by opposition protesters, setting the scene for talks between warring political parties about new polls to end months of deadlock.

While the ruling from the Constitutional Court further delays the formation of a new government, it also offers a possible exit from the political stalemate - if the opposition agrees to end its boycott of the ballot box.

The country's Election Commission said it planned to propose talks between political party leaders about a new election date.

But Yingluck's supporters fear she will be removed from office before another vote is held.

She has been charged with negligence by the National Anti-Corruption Commission in connection with a rice subsidy scheme, and could face an impeachment vote in the upper house of parliament within weeks.

Yingluck has faced more than four months of street demonstrations seeking to force her from office and install an unelected "people's council" to oversee political reforms.

"Their aim is to put pressure in every possible way to appoint a neutral prime minister," said the chairman of the pro-government "Red Shirts" movement, Jatuporn Prompan.

The backdrop is a years-old struggle between a royalist establishment - supported by the judiciary and the military - and Yingluck's family, which has traditionally enjoyed strong support in the northern half of Thailand.

Political violence has claimed the lives of 23 people in recent weeks in gun and grenade attacks, mostly targeting protesters.

The kingdom has been deeply polarised since a military coup in 2006 that ousted Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon-turned-politician who lives in Dubai to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.

'Court's reputation at risk'

The Constitutional Court, set up after a 2006 coup, has a record of ruling against Yingluck's family and its political allies, and Friday's verdict raised eyebrows among some observers.

"The court has too obviously and too openly appeared to side with the agenda of the anti-government groups," said Thailand-based author and scholar David Streckfuss.

"In doing so, the court has put its reputation and its integrity at risk," he told AFP.

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