That would drag out a festering crisis that risks splitting the
country. The military, which has often stepped in to take control in
the past, is resolutely staying out of the fray this time, despite
appeals from anti-government protesters.
"As election officials, it is our job to make sure elections are
successful, but we also need to make sure the country is peaceful
enough to hold the election," Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, an Election
Commission member, told Reuters.
"We don't want it to be bloody."
The commission will meet embattled Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra on Tuesday to discuss the vote date.
With protests aimed at toppling Yingluck now in their third month,
there has been repeated speculation that the armed forces might try
a repeat of the 18 actual and attempted coups they have mounted in
80 years of on-off democracy in Southeast Asia's second biggest
But in comments to reporters, armed forces supreme commander,
Thanasak Patimapakorn, refused to be drawn on whether elections
should be postponed.
"The Election Commission and the government will meet to discuss
this tomorrow. Soldiers will not be able to say much more than
this," he said.
However, the military in recent weeks has also refused to rule out
The Election Commission says the months of protests render the
country too unstable to go to the polls on February 2.
That argument was bolstered by the shooting on Sunday in Bangkok of
a protest leader, taking to 10 the death toll since the protests
started in November.
The protests, centered on the capital, have broad support among
Bangkok's middle class and the traditional elite.
They are pitted against the mostly rural, and much larger, voting
block in the country's north made up of so-called "red shirt"
supporters of Yingluck and her ex-premier brother Thaksin
Shinawatra, forced out of office by a military coup in 2006.
Thaksin lives in self-imposed exile to escape a 2008 jail sentence
Red shirt leaders have threatened to descend on the capital again if
the military steps in. At least 90 people were killed in street
fighting in Bangkok in 2010 between troops and the red shirts.
NOT BACKING DOWN
In their latest comments, neither the government nor the protesters
showed any sign of backing down.
"We have to press ahead with the February 2 election ... A
postponement would be futile and would only give independent
organizations more time to target the government," Interior Minister
Jarupong Ruangsuwan, also head of the ruling Puea Thai Party, told
Last week the government declared a state of emergency that would
give it sweeping powers to curb the protests using the police, but
it has so far shown no appetite for a crackdown and the marches
through the capital have continued.
On Sunday, protesters closed off most of the polling booths set up
in Bangkok for advance voting, though the Election Commission said
voting went ahead in 292 of the 375 electoral areas nationwide.
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Yingluck called the February 2 election in the hope of confirming
her hold on power, and would almost certainly win by a large margin.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister,
has rejected the election outright. In a speech to demonstrators on
Sunday night he appealed to the military to "protect innocent people
who fight with their hands".
On Monday, he said his "Bangkok Shutdown" movement would not accede
to government requests to free up access to ministries and state
agencies that they have blockaded.
About 2.16 million people have registered for early polling in the
country, out of 49 million eligible voters.
Election official Somchai said even a delay of one month might not
be enough to resolve the political deadlock, but waiting too long
would leave the caretaker government unable to administer the
He said the commission did not agree with protesters' plans for an
unelected "people's council" to take over the government.
"This is not the democratic way of doing things ... I don't think
Suthep's reforms, within the time frame he gives, are possible."
EIGHT YEARS OF CONFLICT
The protests are the latest chapter in a political conflict that has
gripped Thailand for eight years. There is growing talk it could
turn into civil war and draw in the military.
Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South East
Asia Affairs in northern Chiang Mai, said Thailand might have to
settle on a decentralized form of administration, with different
regions given broader sway to pursue their own policies.
Sunday's killing, Chambers said, reflects "the growing tit-for-tat"
between the two sides.
"It is a dangerous trend, a harbinger symptomatic of the potential
inception of civil war — or a future clash between police and army
that could lead to a coup," he said.
"There are growing perceptions among people on each side that to
avert civil war it might be necessary to regionally decentralize
Thailand such that there is one country, two democracies ... united
only under the Kingdom of Thailand."
Yingluck's government led the country through a relatively peaceful
period between 2011 and 2013 until a misstep by her Puea Thai Party
in November, when it tried to force through an amnesty bill.
That would have let her brother return as a free man, despite the
2008 jail sentence that he says was politically motivated.
(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat;
editing by Jonathan
Thatcher and Clarence Fernandez)
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