BANGKOK (Reuters) — Thailand's
Constitutional Court opened the way on Friday to delay a general
election the government has set for February 2, a ruling that could
further drag out the country's political deadlock, already in its third
The Election Commission sought court approval to postpone the
election, arguing that the country was so unsettled it would be
impossible to hold a successful vote now.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called the election last month in
the hope of confirming her grip on power in the face of mass
anti-government protests trying to force her from office.
The court ruling appeared to fudge a decision. While it gave the
Election Commission the right to postpone the election, it also
ruled that the commission would have to agree on a new date with the
The government has refused to accept a delay in the vote which it
would almost certainly win and which the opposition says it will
Varathep Rattankorn, a minister at the prime minister's office, said
the government wanted to read the full ruling before deciding what
to do next.
One election commissioner, speaking to Reuters, said the vote could
still go ahead on February 2 if Yingluck's government dug in its
"We will ask to meet with the prime minister and her government on
Monday to discuss a new election date," election commissioner
Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said. "If the government doesn't agree to
postpone the election, then the election will go ahead."
He said that advanced voting for eligible voters could go ahead as
planned on Sunday.
The government declared a 60-day state of emergency from Wednesday
hoping to prevent an escalation in protests.
A leading pro-government activist was shot and wounded the same day
in northeast Thailand, a Yingluck stronghold, in what police said
was a political attack, adding to fears the violence could spread.
Nine people have died and dozens been wounded in violence, including
two grenade attacks in the capital last weekend.
Anti-government firebrand and protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban,
accusing the government of mass corruption, wants it to step aside
and a "people's council" appointed to push through electoral and
He has yet to comment publicly on the court ruling.
The protests are the latest eruption in a political conflict that
has gripped the country for eight years.
Broadly, it pits the Bangkok middle class and royalist establishment
against the mainly poorer supporters of Yingluck and her brother,
ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in
On Wednesday, an unidentified gunman opened fire on Kwanchai
Praipana, a leader of Thailand's pro-government "red shirt" movement
and a popular radio DJ.
The attack in Udon Thani, about 450 km (280 miles) northeast of
Bangkok, was the most significant violence outside the Thai capital
and illustrates the risk that the turbulence plaguing Bangkok could
spread to other areas of Thailand.
Just a day before, he had warned of a nationwide fight if the
military launched a coup, as widely feared.
Several governments have warned their nationals to avoid protest
areas in Bangkok, among the world's most visited cities. China
called on Thailand to "restore stability and order as soon as
possible" through talks.
So far the military, which has been involved in 18 actual or
attempted coups in the past 81 years, has kept out of the fray.
Police are charged with enforcing the state of emergency and are
under orders from Yingluck to handle protesters with restraint.
The emergency decree gives security agencies powers to detain
suspects, impose a curfew and limit gatherings but some analysts
said it was in part designed to give Yingluck legal protection if
police step in.
(Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat;
Jonathan Thatcher; editing by Alan Raybould and Nick Macfie)